Wind blew through the craggy peaks of the Himalayas. The howling permeated throughout, sounding like the voices of a thousand damned souls. This, coupled with the barren landscape of rock and swirling snow, presented a scene of desolation to Harry.
Standing outside his wizarding tent, the Emperor looked up. At this height, the sky was a dark blue to black.
Looking back down, he gazed upon his quarry.
While there was barely any life on top of these mountains, there still were some creatures that few had ever laid eyes upon. One of those creatures was the magnificent phoenix nesting a few feet away from him.
Very little was known of phoenixes beyond the mythology surrounding them. The only known facts of the gentle creatures were the physical descriptions and their habitats. Few had managed to domesticate the birds.
Had he not seen the beautiful creature riding the thermals high up when he was in his falcon form, he would not have been here. He had followed the wild bird out of idle curiosity. He wasn't expecting to see a nest. In fact, getting a phoenix for himself was the furthest thing from his mind at that time.
But one doesn't pass such an opportunity by like this.
Few had managed to domesticate the bird. Their accounts of the process all agreed on one set procedure.
Phoenixes do not, as the various sappy novels written by idle minds like to think, bond to wizards who are "pure of heart" or some such nonsense. They bond to humans when said humans are the first things they see once they hatch.
Of course, this means that one has to find a phoenix nest with an egg in it to begin with.
Then they had to be able to get the egg out of the nest. And that is quite hard to do when the mother is capable of vanishing with the whole nest, egg included.
Harry slowly approached the nest, taking slow steps, extending a hand filled with berries as he did so. The bird cocked its head and looked at him suspiciously through its beady eyes.
He was a good jump away from the nest when the phoenix flashed away, leaving a flaming stone nest behind. Harry theorised that the flames kept the egg warm when the mother wasn't there to incubate it.
The Emperor stopped in his tracks. Looking down, he studied the spot he was standing on. It was five strides further than the spot he had stopped yesterday. Progress!
He looked back at the nest longingly. The egg was so close!
But he wasn't idiotic enough to walk up to the nest. He had learnt from hard experience.
The first time he saw the phoenix flame away leaving its egg behind, Harry had thought that the bird had abandoned it. After all, the literature he had read was of the unanimous opinion that phoenixes leave with the nest and egg.
Ecstatic that he had managed to get to the egg in such a short time, he had happily bounded forward.
That was a mistake.
It turned out that the mother hadn't abandoned her egg. No, she was lying in wait, watching her nest and unborn chick. And when Harry got too close…
The result wasn't pretty.
Harry's scalp still tingled in remembrance of that attack. The phoenix had arrived in a blaze of fire over his head, singeing his hair as she pecked at him.
It had taken a good day for all the scratches on his arms to heal and the hair to grow. The injuries inflicted by that nundu didn't last that long, and they were far deeper and more serious!
Harry cursed silently. The smell of burnt hair still lingered to this day.
Normally, people would have given up, but Harry decided to persevere. Apparating back to the palace he was living in (a nice airy place made of pink marble and grey granite in South India) he requisitioned a wizarding tent and headed back, hoping that the phoenix had not decided to shift base.
He was not disappointed. The bird was still there, eyeing him challengingly when she spotted him, daring him to try stealing her egg again.
And so began the standoff between human and avian. Every morning, he would approach the nest holding an offering of fruit. The minute the phoenix disappeared in flames, he would stop, put down the produce, mark his place and head back. After a while, the bird would reappear, inspect the food, and then eat it.
The rest of the day would be spent doing whatever either life form did for the day. The phoenix had established a schedule. Any and all approaches were to be made during the morning. That was made evident when it started hissing threateningly at Harry when he tried the same thing in the afternoon. Getting the hint, the monarch stayed in his tent for the rest of the day. Eventually the two came to an understanding. After the morning's activity, the bird would fly off and do whatever it did (and Harry was certain that she stayed close to her nest) and Harry would return to his duties.
Over the past week, Harry had made some real progress. The phoenix had started to trust him a bit more, letting him closer and closer to the nest.
The books were thankfully correct on this aspect. Gaining the trust of the mother was the key in getting the egg. Breaking that would mean that the phoenix would forever disappear and never return to the same spot. If locating a phoenix was hard, finding one who did not want to be found was impossible.
The next few days passed in this fashion till finally, Harry was standing right in front of the majestic bird. The hostile look in the phoenix's eye had long gone by now. Standing up, it delicately picked at the large mango that Harry held.
Unwilling to believe his luck, he slowly sat down. Undeterred, the phoenix shuffled closer to him as it continued to eat out of his hand. Harry tentatively raised his other hand to stroke the magnificent neck. A shiver ran down his spine. It reminded him of Fawkes long back ago.
A small smile graced his face at the memories. He may not think highly of Dumbledore now, but there were some good times, and he remembered them fondly. Chief amongst them was the short period where the old man had started teaching him advanced magic. Fawkes used to insist on getting his attention after each of his lessons. It was a long time since he had last thought of the better times with his old headmaster. It was at this time that he realised that he had truly made his peace with the man. He could almost feel the hatred and anger towards the former headmaster drain out of him.
It was as if a large weight, a weight he hadn't known he was carrying had been lifted. Not that he was ever going back to liking the codger.
The wild phoenix stared into his eyes, as if searching for some quality within him. The gaze felt alien and familiar to Harry at the same time as he looked back at the animal without flinching.
After a long moment, the bird bowed its head, and letting out a musical trill, flashed out.
Harry stared at the nest. Unlike previous times, there were no flames coming from the stone structure. Eyes widening as he realised what this meant, he scrambled forward, shifting the warm rocks till he saw the egg within.
It was a beautiful scarlet in colour, about the size of a swan egg. Harry gently lifted it up and tucked it into his clothes, keeping it warm with his body.
Swiftly walking back, he carefully placed it in a specially crafted heated travelling container. Packing his tent, he looked back. The phoenix was perched on a tree, gazing at him unblinkingly. Nodding respectfully at the magnificent creature, Harry cradled his precious cargo and took off into the air. He did not want to risk apparition with such a delicate and valuable thing.
Magdalena smirked at the human as he cast wary glances at her fellow lycans. She had been sure to share reports of the man's arrogance with the master as well as anyone else who would listen. The end result was quite a bit of hostility as the tale grew from there to the point that everyone was quite sure that Thaddeus had called the leader many derogatory names.
Currently, the only reason they hadn't attacked was because The Wolf King had expressed an interest in meeting this man. For some reason, the master was amused at the wizard's arrogance.
But Magdalena had no doubts that once the meeting was over and the man was found useless, his life would be forfeit. She had it all planned out. The wizard would have the pleasure of seeing his own intestines being cooked in front of him as he slowly died.
Thaddeus couldn't help but feel nervous as he walked through the encampment of the Wolf King. The place was a large clearing surrounded on all sides by thick foliage and trees, with a large rambling wooden building dominating the area. He had no idea which wood he was in either, having been sent there by Portkey.
Not that he was worried. The tracker placed on his person would ensure that his men knew exactly where he was at the moment.
Although surprised at the Secrecy Sensor, he approached the werewolf holding it without faltering. There was no way they were going to find the tracker. He was very happy that they had anticipated this probability. It certainly made up for the discomfort he had felt when they had … inserted the tracker a few hours before he was whisked off to this place. He was just glad that he was able to walk properly now. The person who had placed the tracker had assured him that any further feelings he had about the enchanted object within him would be psychological.
He did not agree with that.
And he was not looking forward to tomorrow morning when the object would be leaving him. That is, if it left him. The feeling of constipation was quite strong right now.
Wrenching his thoughts to the present, he smiled slightly to himself when the Secrecy Sensor didn't light up. That was expected as it wasn't strong enough to detect that tracker. They would need a Probity Probe for that. And those were expensive.
'What are you looking at, human,' the werewolf who had scanned him growled threateningly.
'Nothing,' he replied, rearranging his face back to a mask of polite indifference.
The security werewolf gave him one last look of loathing before turning around and opening the door.
The human scanned his surroundings as he walked through the house. Ramshackle from the outside, the building's interiors were nevertheless well-maintained. Had he not seen the outside, Thaddeus would have assumed that he was in a regular lodge.
'Wait here,' his escort said in what Thaddeus was beginning to suspect was his default tone of voice. Rolling his eyes, he stood at the door as the werewolf slipped in. It seemed that they were all only capable of growling. Noticing that he was alone for the moment, he subtly slipped his right hand into his robe pocket and made a fist.
A moment later, the door opened, and he was ushered into what he identified as a sort of throne room.
This room was unlike the opulent throne room of the Palace in the capital. The walls were plain, though with a proper coat of paint on them. The throne itself was nothing but a sturdy wooden armchair that would not look out of place at a dining table.
Thaddeus was forced to his knees at the foot of the dais. His escort shoved his head down to face the ground, no doubt wanting him to show some respect for the figure seated on the chair.
'Your majesty,' his escort growled. 'Your guest has arrived.'
Thaddeus kept his gaze firmly on the ground, knowing that looking up would probably set off the mercurial werewolf standing next to him at the very least.
'Good,' while hoarse, the new voice was markedly softer than the voices of the other wolves. From his vantage point, Thaddeus could see the feet of the Wolf King shift as he got to his feet.
'Rise, human,' the wolf said as he approached the kneeling figure.
Slowly getting up, Thaddeus looked at the man standing in front of him. The Wolf King was slightly shorter than he was. He sported a full beard as long, silver, and untidy as the hair on his head, although flecks of light brown could be seen interspersed. The werewolf's face, in contrast, was that of a much younger man.
All in all, the werewolf looked like a normal, unassuming wizard, albeit with prematurely grey hair.
But that was if nobody accounted for his eyes. The werewolf had eyes of a shark's; dead and cold, devoid of all emotion. These were the eyes of a ruthless predator.
Thaddeus couldn't help but feel that there was something familiar about the werewolf standing in front of him.
'So I understand that you and your fellows are the only survivors working for me?' the werewolf said pleasantly.
The wizard cleared his throat, 'Indeed.' He said with an air of confidence.
The werewolf smiled. 'Good,' he said with satisfaction. Abruptly he turned away from the wizard and headed towards the fireplace.
'I do not wish to be rude –'
'And yet,' pausing, the werewolf cut off the wizard with a small smile. 'As an old friend once said, "sadly, accidental rudeness occurs alarmingly often".'
'Right,' the wizard said shortly. 'But how do I know that I am speaking to the Wolf King? For all I know you could be one of the underlings sent to trick me.'
'You dare –!' The enraged bodyguard was cut off by a raised hand from the silver haired werewolf. 'You do not,' the werewolf said pleasantly. 'I suppose you will have to take my word for it. Besides,' and his tone turned dangerous. 'Had I not been The Wolf King, Sven here would have snapped your neck in a heartbeat. He only listens to me.'
'Oh,' Thaddeus licked his lips. 'Please accept my apologies then, your majesty.'
The werewolf only inclined his head. 'So, human, tell me … how did you survive. I must admit that I am curious to know where the rest of my human contacts went so wrong.'
Thaddeus smirked and started his tale.
The Wolf King listened to the wizard in front of him with interest. Something about the wizard smelled strangely familiar. He wondered if he had met the man. Perhaps it was in his previous life, before the tragedies that had occurred that lead him to this place and situation?
'You seem quite intelligent,' the Wolf King said. 'Quite Slytherin, if I might say so …' he cocked an eyebrow at the wizard. 'Interesting, you seem to know what I just said. Considering your background, I wasn't expecting that.'
'Well, I do like to keep my ears open,' the wizard replied easily. 'I don't know much about what it means, but I know that it is a slang term used by those who come from Avalon.'
'Ah,' the werewolf shrugged. 'You mean "Britain". Now, I do have to admit, human, that while that is an impressive tale, I cannot help but feel that you haven't met me just to tell me only that. So what is it that you are looking for?'
There was a moment's silence.
'Peace,' the wizard finally said with a smirk on his face.
Both the puzzled werewolves only had a moment to give the wizard a questioning look when alarms started blaring.
'The wards are down!' the bodyguard said quickly. 'GUARDS!' he shouted at the top his lungs.
The werewolves were quick to pour into the room, with wands or various bladed weapons in hand. At the same time, pops rang out throughout the room as multiple wizards and witches garbed in gleaming black form-fitting armour materialised out of thin air, wands at the ready.
It was bedlam. Curses flew here and there. Drawing his wand, the Wolf King expertly duelled one of the invaders. He had never seen such armour before. It handily deflected quite a few mid-level curses. Had it not been for that armour, he would have managed to dispatch his opponent with relative ease. She was rather inexperienced.
He ducked under a jet of green light. 'So that's how you want to play it, girlie?' he asked mockingly. 'So be it.' With a shout, his wand flashed green. Cursing, the witch dove out of the way, only to catch a glancing blow to the temple from Sven's huge fist.
The large blond werewolf raised his other hand, bringing the dagger clutched in his fist speeding down towards the dazed woman.
At the last moment, a spell caught the large werewolf in the side, sending him flying away.
'I don't think so.'
The Wolf King turned around to see Thaddeus with his wand out and a snarl on his face. It didn't take long for the pieces to fall into place.
'You lead them here,' he growled. 'I will have your head for this, traitor!'
Showing uncommon agility for a man of his build, the wizard twisted out of the way of the blasting curse, raising a shield to deflect the piercing curse that followed.
The werewolf and human were soon embroiled in battle, crashing through a side door in the room that lead out into a large but simple banquet hall.
Not wasting any time, the werewolf summoned and banished the large table towards his opponent.
Quickly blasting the furniture into smithereens, the wizard transfigured the splinters into metal and sent it back to the werewolf. Not pausing, he started conjuring and transfiguring animals.
The metal spikes vanished with a wave of the werewolf's wand. Seeing what his opponent was doing, he started his own transfiguration.
Soon enough, the room was filled with various beasts and birds fighting with each other, as their creators exchanged curses, hexes, and jinxes furiously.
The duel came to a head when the werewolf, through some impressive wand-work, managed to disarm his opponent, throwing the wizard off his feet.
'And now, Thaddeus, you die,' the werewolf growled as he approached the downed wizard.
Thaddeus laughed loudly. 'You can't kill Thaddeus!' he jeered. 'Thaddeus is long dead by now.'
The wolf paused for a moment before the Knut dropped. 'Polyjuice, I presume?' he said musingly. 'No it couldn't be … that would have been instantly picked up by the wards.' He looked at "Thaddeus" closely. 'You are a Metamorphmagus then. That is quite inventive of the Emperor.' Narrowing his eyes, he twitched his wand, sending the wizard flying. 'Turn back, human. I want to see the face of the person whom I'm going to kill.'
'What's – in it – for me?' the wizard replied between gasps.
The werewolf pretended to think about it. 'If you change back, I kill you. If you don't … well, the full moon is in a few days … you would make for a good werewolf.'
An impotent glare was his only answer before the Metamorphmagus started shifting his form.
In a few moments, the werewolf was gazing upon the true features of the man in front of him. His heart stopped beating. That face was so hauntingly familiar …
'What's the matter, wolfie?' the man mocked from the floor. 'Cat got your tongue?'
The werewolf twitched involuntarily. There had only been one person to call him that. But she was dead … she had been dead for a really long time. The remark only served to cement the familiarity he felt.
From his position on the floor, Edmund watched with a little confusion at the change in the Wolf King's face.
It was at that moment that James decided to make his presence known.
Heading the strike team, it was his job to lead the invasion into the werewolf lair once Edmund confirmed the werewolf leader's presence.
It was James' idea to use one of the captured wizards loyal to the werewolves as a way to find the lycanthropes. With all the operatives found and captured, having one contact would make that individual very useful to the Wolf King.
His superiors had been quite impressed with the plan, and any doubts they had were squashed when Edmund volunteered to impersonate the person.
Edmund's talents as a Metamorphmagus were well-known by now, and the advantages of having such a person instead of using Polyjuice were manifold. For one, it was harder to detect a Metamorphmagus than it was to detect someone who had used the potion.
Additionally, thanks to the rarity of the talent, few would be expecting a Metamorphmagus. However, that also made any such spying missions hard as Edmund was effectively the only Metamorphmagus in the army. Generally, people with that gift went into theatre where they were in high demand. Actors were certainly paid more, a Metamorphmagus actor was paid even more, and the risks associated with the job were quite low.
Another problem was the size. They were quite lucky that one of their captives was close to Edmund in height. While it was easy for them to change facial features and put on or shed fat, height was an issue for an adult Metamorphmagus.
Hopefully, those problems would soon be reduced, if the rumours of a new device that would allow wizards to change form at will ended up being true.
As soon as the tracker told them where his brother had gone, James and the rest of his team silently Apparated a few metres away.
James had to give it to the werewolf, even if they had known that his hideout was in Russia, it would still be hard to find the place in the eight million odd square kilometres of forest.
Unable to do anything but hear what was going on inside, they quietly listened through the receiver in Edmund's pocket that had started working once the man activated the device by clenching it in his fist.
The object itself was harmless, but when combined with an emitter and a variant of a Protean Charm, it could be used to create a small hole in the wards without anyone knowing about it.
James perked up when he heard confirmation of the Wolf King's presence. A few minutes later, the device had done its job and they had an entry point.
Not wasting much time, they Apparated out directly into the room, using the tracker to home in on Edmund and consequently, the Wolf King.
The ensuing battle was the most intense James had ever seen in his life. Not that he had seen much, considering that he was new (it was his first mission).
As soon as he was able, he slipped through the fracas into the adjoining room. His progress was impeded by two determined lycanthropes that proved to be quite resilient despite the fact that they were Muggle.
His eyes widened when he saw a werewolf he could only assume was the Wolf King approach a sprawled figure that he swiftly recognised as his brother.
Not wasting any more time, he quickly bought his wand to bear.
Both Edmund and the werewolf were caught by surprise when a flash of light struck the Wolf King. With a feral snarl, the lycanthrope whirled around, his free hand touching the gash on the side of his face.
Rolling away, Edmund quickly got to his feet, drawing his spare wand and summoning his primary wand.
Side-by-side, the brothers fought their lone opponent. The werewolf put up a good fight, but in the end, a banishing charm thrown by Edmund sent him flying to the far end of the room where he was impaled by the severed leg of the dining table.
The two wizards slowly approached the weakly struggling werewolf. James reached into one of his pockets and removed a camera that Edmund took.
'Allow me,' he said, never taking his eyes off the dying werewolf. 'Father would love to see this,' he remarked as he lifted the camera.
'I … I …' the werewolf coughed out, before, with a sigh, he slumped forward, clearly dead.
'Hold his face up for me so I can get a clear shot.'
Done with the grisly job, the two joined their team for the clean-up.
That night, Edmund sat in his study.
Having been given the weekend off, he had wasted no time Apparating back home.
He did not know what to feel, having completed his first mission. On one hand, there was the thrill he got in duping the enemy, sneaking into their stronghold without their knowledge. Then there was the adrenalin rush he got in the fight itself. The magic in his veins practically sang as he cast spell after spell.
But then there was the fact that he had ended the life of another individual. While it was made clear that werewolves were patently not human, what with their insatiable need and hunger for regular human flesh at all times, they still did resemble humans closely enough.
Beneath all that was a burning curiosity. The Wolf King looked quite familiar. Edmund was sure he had seen that face somewhere before.
Edmund brought out the photograph he had taken. Officially, that image was supposed to be with the army, and it was. However, he had made a copy which he kept for himself. Unlike regular photographs, this one stayed still as the photograph wasn't developed in the traditional sense.
He did not know why, but he felt his gaze drift from the photograph in his hand to the one on his desk.
Frowning, Edmund picked up and held the gilded picture frame up to the creased photograph, comparing the two subjects within. His eyes widened and his hands shook when he made the connexion. Once you took away the beard, shortened the hair, and turned the clock back a few years, the picture of the deceased werewolf in his left hand was a dead ringer for the picture held in his right of the happy smiling man holding an equally happy woman in his arms.
The framed picture clattered to the ground, the glass within shattering and the occupants fleeing the picture as the crumpled photograph drifted down to join it.
Edmund, however, did not notice this as he was already on his way out.
Harry found him a few hours later, sitting in a tree near the grounds.
'So I suppose that you have figured out the identity of the Wolf King.'
Edmund started at his voice, not having noticed him till now. Looking down, he nodded silently, and went back to staring out into nothing.
He felt the older man sit down at the base of the tree, directly below him.
They spent a few moments in silence before Edmund finally spoke.
'Can you … tell me about him?' he said hesitantly.
'What do you want to know?'
'Everything,' was the short reply.
Looking up into the night sky, Harry began to speak. Most of what he said was already known to Edmund, as he had repeated the stories countless times. He told him everything from how he first met him to the last time he had seen Remus Lupin.
'I don't understand,' Edmund finally said. 'How could he become … someone like this?'
'We can only speculate,' Harry said with a sigh. 'No one but Remus Lupin knows the answer to that question. I never knew him much. Not like how much my parents knew him.'
'Do you think,' Edmund began haltingly. 'If he had known …?'
'…About you? Maybe … that is a question that I find asking myself. Like I said, he and I were never close.'
'But he was your father's friend.'
'But he never was mine.' Harry shrugged. 'I only met him when I was thirteen. And it was months later before I found out that he knew my parents. Sure, we did get along reasonably amicably whenever we met, but I knew Sirius for a much shorter time and I felt closer to him than I felt to Remus.' He gazed into the distance. 'And our last meeting didn't end very well, either.'
'You never told me about that incident,' Edmund remarked.
'Do you really want to know?' Harry said hesitantly.
Edmund pondered this for a few moments. 'Yes,' he finally said firmly. 'I want to know.'
Harry took a deep breath. 'Do you remember your school history lessons? I know that you and your brother took History of Magic at the N.E.W.T. level. You two passed with flying colours too.'
Edmund smiled. 'Well, we did have resources others did not. Like easy access to people who have lived through most of the syllabus.'
'Quite. So I suppose that you know who the Lestranges were?'
Harry heard a soft intake of breath. 'Yes,' Edmund finally said. 'They were three of the Dark Lord Voldemort's most fearsome Death Eaters: Rodolphus, his brother Rabastan and his wife, Bellatrix. There still are quite a few debates as to who was more dangerous.'
Unseen by his son, Harry gave a thin smile, his gaze far away. 'Rodolphus and Bellatrix had attacked the Tonks family. I …' he paused, looking at his hands. 'Rabastan had orchestrated an attack on Diagon Alley at the same time. It was coincidence that I was inside the bank at the time. Or maybe it was fate. Whatever the reason, the bank had gone into lockdown because of the Death Eaters, and I was inside, unable to get out.
'By the time I reached the house, I was just in time to see Rodolphus kill Ted Tonks. And trust me; death was a favour for him at the time. I couldn't even begin to comprehend or describe the state he was in when I saw him. I still can't…
'Anyway, we duelled. Rodolphus and I. I wish I could say that I bested him, but –' he laughed hollowly. 'I was but a boy then … all of sixteen years old. And I was up against a Death Eater who had killed some of the best Aurors and Hit Wizards. Add in the fact that I could still hear fighting coming from the house and knowing that Bellatrix was in there … well, I couldn't think of finishing the man. I had to get inside.'
Harry closed his eyes. 'Thankfully,' he said after a pause. 'Reinforcements had arrived. It compelled Rodolphus and Bellatrix to retreat. Otherwise, I shudder to think what would have happened to me, considering that I had literally put myself between those two violent crackpots. Yeah, I know,' he said in reply to the snort that he heard, 'Elementary mistake. But I was sixteen, unexperienced in battle and I had no formal training. I was lucky.'
His voice turned sorrowful. 'I went inside … Andromeda's face still gives me nightmares sometimes. She had put up quite a fight, your maternal grandmother. Her wand was charred in her hands. But Bellatrix was a much better fighter, and sadistic to boot. What she did…' he shuddered.
'Then I came into your biological mother's room …' Harry swallowed. 'That insane witch had stuck a knife in her belly … there was so much blood –' He broke off, unable to speak.
Harry took a few deep breaths, mastering his mind and bringing his emotions back under control. When he spoke next, his voice was under control. 'She was still breathing, still conscious. I remember calling her by her first name.' he gave a soft laugh. 'She actually replied with "don't call me Nymphadora." … her last words.' A watery chuckle above him followed by a hastily stifled sniff told him how Edmund was taking this.
'Then Remus came in … and that's when everything went to hell.' Harry paused. 'There were so many reasons for Bellatrix to go after the Tonks family: Andromeda had married what was once called a common Muggleborn, someone a witch like Bellatrix considered beneath her. She and her daughter were vocal opponents of Voldemort's. And her daughter, Nymphadora, had married a werewolf; and that was more than enough to get Bellatrix in a frothing rage. And yet … Remus decided that I was the one to blame for what happened.'
'Bet you took that well,' Edmund replied.
Harry snorted. 'What do you think?' he paused, lost in thought. 'I used quite a few harsh words then. I had quite a temper then, I'll have you know.'
'You did?' Edmund was surprised. His father always seemed so calm. He could never picture the man in a rage.
'Oh, you don't know the half of it,' Harry said dryly. 'Anyway, I did use quite a few harsh words, words that I wouldn't have used now. I do not deny that. But at the same time, Remus could have acted a bit more maturely. I suppose he allowed his anger to twist him up. You only survived because I made a very tough decision. We searched for Remus, we tried to get a message out many times, but owls were unable to find him, and you need to have a general idea of his location for a Patronus message to reach him. Eventually, we were forced to have him declared legally dead.'
There was more silence.
'I cannot imagine how you must be feeling,' Harry finally said. 'To find out that the person whom you killed was your own father …'
'Don't be stupid,' Edmund interrupted with a snort. 'My father is not dead. He is sitting here.' He looked down at Harry meaningfully. 'And I most certainly am not ever going to even entertain thoughts of killing him.'
'Remus Lupin wouldn't have known to find me here,' Edmund said fiercely. Swinging his legs around, he jumped down, landing next to his father with grace. 'He probably would have spent hours trying to locate me. I know that you came here the minute you found out that I was missing. I did see you Apparate in a few minutes back, after all. Lupin never raised me. He never took care of me. In fact, he was the reason why I nearly died and why I never knew my biological mother. I know I said this before, but you are my father. You will always be.'
Harry got to his feet. He looked up at his son with a smile, eyes glistening suspiciously. 'And you will always be my son.' Throwing an arm around him, he remarked. 'Oh how I miss those days when you were a little midget. I didn't have to reach up then. Come, let's get inside.'
Just then the air immediately above them burst in flames.
Not even flinching, Harry automatically held out his free arm. Trilling an uplifting melody, his phoenix settled down on the proffered arm gracefully.
Even though he was long used to the bird appearing, Edmund couldn't help but stare. Even now, the phoenix's beauty captivated him.
'Miss me?' Harry asked fondly as he gently ran a finger down the head of the bird. Like his son, Harry also couldn't help but marvel at the beauty of the bird. He was quite surprised when the egg that he had managed to obtain hatched to give a white phoenix.
While not unheard of, white phoenixes were rare, and Harry felt quite blessed to have one as his companion.
He wanted a name as unique as the bird. As the phoenix's flame and plumage reminded him of the midday sun, Harry decided to turn to Sanskrit in naming the bird.
And so, his phoenix was named Mihir.
Mihir looked at Edmund with one large clear blue eye and started singing, starting off at a low note and then building up.
The effect of the phoenix song was immediate. Both men were considerably cheerier by the time they entered the house, their hearts lighter and their hopes for the future stronger.
Harry stood on the plains with his sons flanking him as he looked ahead.
It had taken a decade to finally get here.
While they had blazed through Europe with ease, they had hit a small snag in the Middle East. The Muggles in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had somehow managed to muster up resistance in the form of their army.
Harry was quite upset when he found out that the wizards from those countries were unable to kill their former Muggle masters. Somehow, they had allowed the Saudi Muggle King to get away long enough to warn the rest and seek shelter. Additionally, a family member of one of Emirs of the UAE had managed to escape the initial purge.
He was thankful that they had been unable to send their warning until after the communications failure, having been in hiding till then. That meant that the news of the magical uprising did not spread with rapidity as it would have done otherwise.
However, the Emperor had been sure to make his displeasure known to the two ministers responsible.
He didn't torture them. Nor did he kill them. That wasn't his style. But he had made it clear that they would not be first pick for viceroys.
However, he did have a very strong desire to punch the Saudi Minister of Magic in the face. All that grovelling was quite annoying, really. And the man had royally stuffed up. He really did remind Harry of Fudge. At least he could take some consolation that he actually had punched Fudge in the face.
At least he got to bloody his troops in proper warfare. Their strategy and training had paid off well, and having two of the participants of Instant Gratification work in the military of those two countries did not hurt either as it gave them a good idea about battle tactics. It took a few months to subdue the Saudi Muggle military.
They finished the seven emirates in even lesser time.
Saudi Arabia and the Emirates weren't the only countries that had somehow cottoned on to the presence of wizards. They had experienced a few instances of organised resistance as they went east. However, it was fairly easy to take care of them. Muggles were not used to magical means of fighting.
And things had changed since then too. The past few years had seen a surge in advances in magical science and technology across the board.
One of those advances was in wand technology. After some intensive research and development, it was now impossible for people to see the spells coming out of a wand of a battle mage (at least that's what Harry called the soldiers in his mind). That included both Muggles and Wizards.
Harry wondered what it must look like to a Muggle when spells rained down on them. The only time they would be able to tell if a spell had been cast was after they saw the effects. Sure wizards also could not see them, but at least a wizard knew what to expect.
Still the wizards had suffered losses. Dragon hide, while resilient against bullets wasn't exactly freely available, and Mithril was in precious short supply. The average soldier had to make do with transfigured and conjured shields or enchanted stones and metals. At the same time, it wasn't as bad as the losses the Muggles experienced in an all-out fight.
At least they did not have to bother with Africa much. The Muggles were happily doing their job for them! The massive losses suffered throughout the world had, in effect, escalated the violence within the African nations. Everyone was convinced that their neighbour had oil or some other precious resource hidden away. That naturally led to an increase in "freedom fighters" and "messiahs" emerging from the woodwork which then resulted in more violence and killing.
They still had to deal with Asia, though. And it wasn't called the world's largest continent for nothing.
This was where the idea of allowing Muggles to surrender and putting those people to work had paid off great dividends. As the wizards conquered, the Muggles built new cities and facilities for the Empire, assisted by the wizards, keeping expansion at a consistent rate, allowing wizards to concentrate on other matters.
Nobody was under the illusion that all Muggle presence had been taken care of completely. But, with the major cities and countries taken care of and with all the magical beasts that they were breeding, being non-magical was becoming increasingly dangerous. The only way a Muggle could survive now was if they surrendered. And while they were put to work without pay, the fact that they were healthy, well fed, well clothed and warm was a massive improvement to the quality of life that they were previously living in without counting how surprisingly humane their masters were being. They weren't pampered, but they weren't living in squalor either.
The Emperor looked at his sons. He could not believe that they were thirty two and thirty one now. They had risen through the ranks swiftly, Edmund showed great promise in the battle against the Muggle Saudis, while James had done very well in leading the troops in India, distracting the Muggle Chinese.
It was largely thanks to General John Hodgkin's work in Pakistan and James' efforts in India that they were able to march unchallenged through most of China, conquering the land and annexing it to the Empire, before the Muggles realised that there was a serious magical presence in their precious country.
The Chinese Muggles wouldn't have been so distracted had Harry not been contributing as well. The Emperor had found out quite some time back that Taiwan wasn't as capable of detecting magical presence as mainland China. He had also found out that there were some tensions between the two entities.
With a bit of encouragement, the Taiwanese were starting sorties into mainland China in a bid to take over what they thought was their rightful claim over the whole of China.
'What are they saying?' Harry asked in general, cocking his head to the side as he heard the Muggles yammer through a loudspeaker. From the reports he had read, and the fields they had passed (and destroyed) he knew for a fact that the Chinese had resorted to growing crops for use in bio-fuel. Harry imagined it must be a hard decision for the Muggles. Either use the land to feed the people or meet the energy requirements of the country. There was no middle ground.
Everyone around him shrugged or shook their heads. 'I don't think that we have anyone qualified to speak their language.' James finally said. 'Didn't you say you knew a Chinese language?'
'Only some bits of Cantonese,' Harry replied. 'And that was ages ago!'
Just then they saw the muzzles of the Muggle rifles and guns flash, followed a split second later by the characteristic chattering of gunfire.
The soldiers in the front lines flinched instinctively despite being behind wards that stopped the bullets.
'I think I'm beginning to understand what they are trying to communicate now,' Harry said lightly. Straightening, he tapped his ear.
His quiet command reached every single soldier via the communications devices implanted in their ears. Scrambling into formation, the troops all stiffened, their forms screaming readiness.
The Emperor's armour, like those of the Princes and General Hodgkin, then started flowing upwards, forming a faceless helmet of Mithril. Turning, Harry nodded to his sons and General Hodgkin.
Not needing to be told, the three men saluted and Apparated to their sections.
Harry could hear the General's voice barking orders to his men to start casting shield charms as Edmund and James got their men to start conjuring and transfiguring.
The army started marching. Stepping through the wards, the mobile shields cast by the defence shouldered the load of the heavy fire. Harry could make out the strain the men behind the shields were feeling.
They were soon relieved as James' men finished the last of their transfigurations and put up a solid stone barrier which was immediately reinforced with unbreakable charms, with transparency charms added to ensure visibility and levitated in front of the troops. They would hold, but not for long.
Halfway through, Edmund's men started acting. The Muggles were caught flatfooted when tigers, cheetahs and other beasts sprang forth from nothing as birds of all sizes flew above them.
Faced with this more immediate and sudden threat, the Muggles diverted their fire, giving the wizards much needed respite.
As one, they started picking up the pace, discarding the shields and raining curses down on the Muggles. From behind, protected by the wards, the artillery team fired off destructive curses with their staves, targeting the few vehicles that the enemy somehow still had up and running.
At that point, Harry Apparated out, shortly followed by the Elites.
The Emperor's Elites were a class above the rest. Handpicked personally by the Emperor, they were all the best of the best in both the magical and physical sense.
They were enhanced by all the rituals that Harry had once performed in his youth. While they were not as fast as Harry, who had the advantage of quite a few years of the magic to hone his body, they were pretty good.
But there was one other thing that set the Elites apart from the rest. For unlike their fellows, these wizards and witches were fitted with the very latest development in wand technology.
The advances in wand technology had not just stopped with the wands that the regular soldiers used. Fully approved by the Emperor (with advice of the council) the wands were not yet available to the rest of the army. These wands, if they could be called such, were no longer the wooden sticks of old to be held and waved by a user.
Instead, the wood had been alchemically transformed and shaped to resemble an oval crystal with the core embedded at the centre.
This crystal was then directly implanted into the spine via surgery.
The upside was that wizards were no longer in danger of losing their wands. They could directly channel their spells through their hands.
The downside, however was that the crystals took getting used to. It was difficult to cast spells as the conventional wand movements of old were now obsolete. This was more of a mixed blessing as on the heels of this came quite a few other possibilities for spells as there were more combinations possible from arm, wrist and finger movement which were far subtler than the comparatively cruder swishes, flicks and twirls of the conventional wands.
Unfortunately, it had been made quite apparent that one crystal wasn't as powerful as an actual wand.
But that problem was easily fixed. They simply used more crystals.
After further experimentation, it was found that splitting a person's wand into seven equal parts (core included) and then converting and implanting them produced the best results than just converting the whole wand.
Thus each one of Harry's elite had six crystals jutting out of their backs covered by their Mithril armour. They all burned in an ethereal colour unique to their owners which could be seen through the seventh crystal embedded into the back of their wand hands. Those few ambidextrous souls had one in each hand with the balance five embedded into the spine.
Rematerializing behind enemy lines, the Elite started laying waste to the surprised Muggles, sowing even more discord as they sent spell after spell into enemy ranks, their Mithril armour reducing bullets to a mere annoyance. This was a standard tactic they had used with great effect over the years to rout the Muggles. Never having Apparated, and not even knowing that something like that was actually possible, the Muggles were thus unused to having their enemies suddenly materialise from behind. Unable to see the curses, they did not have much opportunity to dodge either, not that they could, considering that their reflexes weren't as good as a wizard's.
Harry was a class of his own. With one hand wielding his sword, he easily cut down the foes nearest to him, casting spells with merely a thought, not needing to move a finger to get a spell out. Many had tried to emulate the Emperor, the crystal wands giving them the confidence in their attempts, but they had all failed. While the battle spells did not require much in the way of arm motion, they still had to use those to cast.
Sometimes old magic was still powerful. And so far, nothing came close to surpassing the abilities granted to Harry by him being the Master of the Three Deathly Hallows.
The Emperor did not even flinch as a machine gun erupted behind him. He barely felt the fusillade. The bullets just pinged off the black armour that covered him and his Elites from head to toe.
'Sire, they are regrouping!'
Harry looked around him, they were right. The Muggles had recovered quite quickly, popping up from boltholes they had made. This made Harry a little suspicious. How did they know of his army's tactics? Discarding their guns, Muggles had drawn swords and were beginning to regroup, engaging his men with steel. He couldn't help but be impressed at this. Their commander must be an exceptional man.
Thankfully they weren't out of tricks yet. Harry let the Elites surround him as he raised his hands skyward.
The hissing chants coming from Harry's mouth as he started to weave magic that he had last done when duelling Voldemort were drowned out by the sounds of battle. Finishing the chant, he slapped the ground his left palm.
Shockwaves rippled from his hand in concentric circles, temporarily distracting the fighters.
Nothing happened for a few moments.
Wary, the Muggles were just beginning to shrug off the strange occurrence, when suddenly, in front of their astonished and disbelieving eyes, their fallen comrades started getting up.
The Muggles may have been seasoned fighters and they may have seen their share of death and destruction, but nothing, nothing had prepared them for this situation. People who have been killed do not get up and start fighting you, acting as if the gaping wounds in their torsos and missing limbs and heads are of no consequence to them. What made it worse was that these men who were now after them once used to fight with them.
Smirking, Harry and the Elites Disapparated to their own lines, content to let their reanimated allies do the dirty work.
It did not take long for the Muggles to break and run, panicked and horrified as they screamed about zombies as their magical foes cheered at the victory.
'Let us decamp,' Harry said to his General.
Nodding, the General started barking orders.
Soon enough, Harry was ensconced within the palatial confines of his wizarding tent in a meeting with his officers.
While today had been an undeniable victory for them, they had suffered losses all the same.
As the men and women took a few moments of silence to mourn for their fallen comrades, Harry once again cursed the fact that the Mithril armour was too expensive to make for every single soldier.
As it is, the amount gone into making these seventeen suits for the Emperor, his General, the two princes and the Elites was astronomical. They had virtually cleaned out their stockpile of Mithril.
So the average soldier had to make do with shield charms, and failing that, goblin steel (which wasn't as good as the Mithril) or, alternatively, dragon and basilisk hide.
'Any idea as to why those Muggles were lying in wait for us?' Harry asked once they were all seated. He absently stroked the head of his white phoenix that had alighted on the armrest of his chair as soon as he sat down.
'Your imperial majesty, I have reason to believe that they were not anticipating our tactics,' said one of the officers. 'They had set up those ambush points in order to surprise us. The main army was backing up from the beginning. They wanted us to position ourselves between them and their hidden comrades, catching us on two fronts.'
'How do you come to this conclusion?'
'We've had a few survivors,' the woman readily replied. 'Initial questioning has given us that information.'
Harry hummed. 'Regardless,' he said. 'I think it is high time we think up newer strategies. We are getting predictable.'
This started off a brainstorming session. Most of the new ideas were basically a variation of their current idea of using apparition.
'How about changing our engagement timings?' General Hodgkin said.
Harry looked at him thoughtfully. 'We can use disillusionment charms,' he said slowly. 'That way, they won't be able to see us sneaking up on them before it is too late.'
'We can hide out behind anti-Muggle wards during the daytime,' James joined in. 'although, by nightfall, they will have surrounded us. They might not be able to see our camp, but they will know the vicinity. That damned detection charm that they have been using so far will ensure that our general location is given away.'
'Then again,' Edmund said. 'That is our job here isn't it? We are supposed to engage the Muggles in war to help further our plans.'
'They will try and ambush us at some point,' observed an officer. 'We will have to be careful of that.'
'We can ferret out potential ambush attempts easily with the human revealing charm,' said another. 'So that should not be too hard.'
There was a few moments silence as they all thought.
'What if we use Inferi against them?'
'It won't work.' Harry replied. 'The conventional Inferi are nothing but weak shambling corpses. While a great tool to use to strike horror in the hearts and minds of our enemies, they are quite useless in actual battle. Their aversion to fire will be easily picked up on.'
'What about the ones you created, sir?'
Harry shook his head. 'Those have a very short lifespan. They won't even last a day.'
'How about we use their weapons against them?'
Everyone turned to look at the speaker.
'Ah Petersen,' General Hodgkin was the first to speak. 'I see you have come back from your operation.'
'Yes, sir,' Petersen responded quickly with a crisp salute. 'Sir, I couldn't help but overhear, and so I got this idea…'
'Explain,' Harry said shortly.
'Well,' the soldier began hesitantly. 'What if we take those weapons those Muggles wield … those gums…?'
'Right … what if we make those things do our work for us?'
He was met with blank stares.
'Animation charms,' Harry finally said, a look of dawning comprehension forming. 'We could affix those guns to some legs or something and charm them to scurry around shooting whatever they see on sight.'
'We could engrave ever-filling runes into the magazines to make sure we never run out of bullets.' General Hodgkin continued. 'Why didn't we think of this before? After all these years … it would have made many of our battles easy.' He snorted. 'Imagine the expression on their faces when they see a machine gun running around firing indiscriminately.' He looked at Petersen. 'That's a good idea, colonel.'
Excitement slowly began to fill in the room as people began to think of the possibilities.
'Of course,' someone said. 'The problem is that we don't have that many guns.'
Everyone seemed to deflate at that.
James, however, wasn't willing to give up on the idea yet. 'Not necessarily. The Indian and Pakistani armies still have their guns. We haven't yet got around to doing anything to them yet. Refilling charms should take care of bullets, and impervious charms should make them durable.'
'I like this idea!' Harry pronounced. 'Let's get working on it immediately.' He looked towards the Lead Unspeakable who nodded in affirmation.
Looking back at Petersen, he said. 'What is the status of our little experiment?'
'Well, sir, the data given to us was right,' the reply was ready. 'It was fortunate that one of the designers of the detection charm escaped the Muggles all those years back. They completely failed to notice our presence and magic use as we raided the nearby village.'
'So they do get confused when a sufficiently large amount of magic is used?' Harry said half-incredulously.
The Emperor sat back for a moment, thinking about this development.
'The village that we ransacked … I want you to ward that place till it is practically radiating with magic,' Harry finally said, a devious smile forming on his face. 'Be sure to put up a nice strong Muggle repelling ward first. I have a plan.'
So here we go! I know, I know it was a long time, but hey! It's finally here! *wide grin*
Anyway, I think we all knew who the Wolf King was, I was wondering who would pick up on Thaddeus ... nobody did ... that is so sad ...
Oh, by the way, my other story, Black Vengeance has been translated into Russian! Tsaessera has translated and put the fic up on her profile page, so if you are Russian or know Russian ...
That makes me so happy!
Till next chapter!