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Whatever Gods May Be

[part the first - for dead men deadly wine]

by Incendiarist


We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever ;
That dead men rise up never ;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.


i.

I sit in the corner of my dank cell, waiting for something - anything - to happen. There's fear somewhere in my mind, I think, somewhere among the mindless terror which is not quite fear, because one can still think properly when fearful. Or maybe it's self-preservation; who knows? (And who cares?) The Thing will be back soon, and that's all that really matters; not the pathetic chemical reactions that make up the primal emotions which control humans so. Even pain is nothing, really, anymore. The Thing has taught me that much; pain can be ignored almost entirely, if only you block it out.

I've been doing a lot of blocking out lately.

The Thing has taken it upon Itself to 'train' me, as it were. I don't know what ultimate purpose It has - for surely It has one - it seems that 'training' means mostly that It uses me as Its personal chew-toy.

If you could compare It to a dog. I don't think you could, personally. Even a Grim would cower in fear before It, because It has no fear within Itself; not of death, nor anything else worth considering. If It ever had a fear, It has long since conditioned Itself not to show that fear.

At first I'd tried to find any fear in It, when I'd first been brought here, into this hell-hole beneath the manor that so beautifully conceals it; for none who did not know this cellar existed would even think of such a thing being here. The manor appears completely benign, for all of its Dark secrets. The Aurors could not find anything incriminating in the least if they literally turned the house upside-down.

But that does not matter, for surely you would not care in the least what this accursed building's Slytherin tendencies are (for it seems that the inhabitants have been Slytherin for so long, their personalities began to rub off on it, creating the Manor: aware, cunning for all that its worth, and condescending as hell. I don't doubt that it would literally taunt its enemies, those who would dare and attempt to uncover its secrets. But I have again fallen off-track.). What does matter is that I could not find a single weakness in the Thing. It appears to be immune to all temptations that a human would fall prey to, and It has no fears that I could tell, not even something as benign as arachnids.

The Thing knows it as well as I do, though I realised not long into my imprisonment that the thing isn't really human, at least, not entirely. It has the body of a human, yes, but It carries Itself in such a different manner… no, there's no way. Nothing mortal - no living, breathing flesh - can withstand what It does. Even accounting Its understanding of what pain is, there is no way to excuse the fact that It, if It shows any emotion at all, appears to enjoy the beam of the Cruciatus. There's something deeply disconcerting about that, I've found. The lack of physical reaction, the lack of a scream, or even a tremor, that can be ignored, when push comes to shove. But the serene expression It holds, the smile on Its lips... Unnatural. The Thing is an abomination, at the very least. An Eldritch horror come to destroy the world, for all I know, It may be.

But the worst thing about It is indubitably the fact that I've no idea how many of It exist.

There may be hundreds, millions, and I'd never have had a clue.

The Thing returns now, and my horrified, half-coherent musings stop as though frozen over as I am reduced suddenly to what equivocates roughly to a living mass of quavering gelatine, begging and pleading for It to take mercy on me, futile as the hope may be.

I think It's taunting me now. The cackle of madness so foregone that nothing could bring it back to sanity - if indeed sanity ever truly existed within It - makes it difficult to be sure, and even then I've not taken into account the possibility that It may not even have human emotions, but I'm quite as sure as I'll ever be. It enjoys my terror, drinking it in as a Dementor would happiness.

And there I make the connection.

A Dementor, is It? Or rather, not an exact Dementor, but something related to them closely enough that it would not make much of a difference? Something which appears human? Something which could fool real humans into thinking It was like them?

That was a terrifying thought. More terrifying was the fact that I'd the oddest impression that it was true.

ii.

Unnatural. That's what It was. Its eyes shone with an inhuman fire, disconcerting in their ability to make her feel as though they were looking straight into her soul. Maybe they were, maybe they weren't. She didn't know; didn't want to know. Really, if she didn't have to see the Thing ever again, she'd be rather happy. It was in the cupboard for God-only-knew what reason, and if It was content there, there it could stay.

Really. Those eyes, her sister's eyes. Alien in Its face. Burning, burning...

It wants her soul.

Hungry.

She screams.

Hungry.

The Thing - the Demon-child, for that's what It must be - is in her head; she hears Its animalistic growl. It's still in the cupboard, why, she doesn't care, doesn't care...

She's got to lock the Thing in, lock It in before It destroys her.

Hungry.

"Vernon, help!" she screeches. The table is too heavy for her to move on her own, it only creeks and resists her frantic pulling. And the door, even with the locks... She knows it won't hold. She knows it, deep within her soul. For all she knows, It placed the knowledge there.

Hungry.

Vernon comes running (panting, gasping), helps to move the table. Between the two of them, they can barely lift it; surely it could contain the Thing...? It, corrupted though It may be, was still a toddler, with a toddler's strength. She hoped.

Hungry.

The word shows something akin to amusement this time, like It knew something that she didn't. Well, of course It did, a rational part of her brain argues, but it's so tiny, drowned out by waves of pure, mindless terror...

Hungry.

They push the table in place against the door, and Petunia collapses against Vernon, laughing softly (and more than a tad hysterically). They've got It trapped, for at least a short while. Enough time to pick up the baby from Mrs. Number Nine and get the hell out, in any case. They definitely can't stay.

Hungry.

They turn to leave, and are met with a toddler. Messy black hair, glowing eyes of vibrant green, a scar in the shape of a bolt of lightning that sits newly-engraved on Its forehead.

Hungry.

She screams.

iii.

"Mum? What're you doing?"

Selene looked down at her daughter, saying, "I'm doing something for work, sweetheart. Do you want to watch?"

The little girl - nine years old a month earlier - nodded excitedly, bouncing in anticipation, the spoons on her necklace tinkling. Selene noticed the odd jewellery, and smiled. "Why are you worried about Blibbering Humdingers, Lu?"

Luna shrugged. "I had a dream last night," she said, as though that explained everything. Which it did, if you knew her. Selene had thought for years that her daughter was a Seer; her family was an off-branch of the great Seer Cassandra, though no-one had been anywhere near as good since. A distant cousin of hers was mediocre at best, though you could see her ancestry clearly enough. She only prophesied negative events, after all. And most people didn't believe her. It didn't help that she got confused often, mixing up destinies of different people, or assigning more value to some mostly unimportant event. But Selene was an Unspeakable; she had been in the Hall of Prophecies, and she had seen The Prophecy. The one that caused Lord Voldemort to fall, and the Potters to be killed, and the Longbottoms to be tortured to insanity, and Sybill Trelawney to be offered a teaching position at Hogwarts (much to the dismay of the Transfiguration professor). She knew that there was some truth to Divination, generally speaking, as time is generally considered malleable to a point. Honestly, Selene was just waiting for Luna to make her first Prophecy.

Blibbering Humdingers, according to Luna - and Selene's husband, Xenophilius - were not quite omens of death, and yet were. Or rather, they were omens of the death of one's soul. Nasty little critters, despite the inane name (Merlin only knew who came up with it). Luna wore the necklace often enough, usually with an article in the Daily Prophet about someone being Kissed by a Dementor following the next day. This tended to cement Luna's Seer abilities in Selene's mind. Never yet had anything happened to their family, so Selene, as usual, paid Luna's handmade amulet's warning no heed.

She really ought to have.

iv.

Whispers ran through the Hall.

At the Gryffindor table, one speechless red-headed boy gasped, "How the bloody hell-?"

"Merlin, mate," said another red-head, "Remind me to avoid her, will ya? If the Hat Sorted her there, she must be the most Slytherin person since the original!"

"She's Muggleborn, isn't she?" asked his friend. "I've not heard of any Grangers before."

"Yeah, I've not either, mate."

The girl on the other side of the table, who was, to the boys, just another nameless sixth year, said, "Well, she could be an Aussie. There's a mixed-blood family there by the name of Granger," not once looking up from the book she'd been reading, seemingly unconcerned about the whole issue.

Another girl scoffed. "Nah, she's Muggleborn. Didja see how she was lookin' at the ceiling?"

At the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables, the conversation consisted of "That poor girl..." and "They'll eat her alive." The Slytherins were too slack-jawed to speak, and the new first-years looked either confused (if they were Muggleborn, and therefore wondering what the fuss was all about), or rather worried about where they'd end up (because a certain Hat was obviously completely bonkers), save for a single girl, who simply raised an eyebrow.

When Professor McGonagall regained her voice, the Sorting went on as normal as said girl, one "Greengrass, Daphne," was sorted into Slytherin, and, smiling cheerfully, and almost as widely as the Cheshire Cat, sat down across from the Muggleborn girl. (This meant that they were on the very edge of the table, because everyone else had moved as far away as they could, almost as though they thought a Muggle upbringing was contagious.) Then she stuck out a hand, and said, "Allies?" completely oblivious to the flinches made by almost everyone within hearing range.

The Muggleborn looked at her in shock. "You'll destroy your reputation if you ally with me, won't you?"

She snorted. "Hermione - d'you mind if I call you Hermione? No? Good - I'm a Greengrass. I don't have a reputation to destroy. We're notorious for being lying, cheating, traitorous bastard scum. Check the history books if you wanna. My great-granddad, in the War Against Grindelwald, was, like, a quintuple agent or something ridiculous like that. Hell, You-Know-Who actually refused my dad the Dark Mark 'cause he didn't want to get betrayed.

"Greengrasses look out for themselves. They stay with whoever they think is going to win at the time. And you're currently my best bet, I think. Your aura is, like, über strong. Kinda weird, like, I dunno, Alien-ish or something, but strong.

So. Allies?"

Hermione looked pensive for a moment, and had just opened her mouth to answer as McGonagall announced "Potter, Harry," and the Hall went deadly quiet for the second time that night.

A minute later, a Muggleborn and a Halfblood were staring each-other down at the end of the Slytherin table, not once blinking, until finally Daphne Greengrass was disconcerted enough to speak, taking care to not act as though she'd noticed anything odd.

"So... when's the coup?"

v.

You're worried.

Really, just look at the boy! He's not shown any magical ability yet, and he's practically Hogwarts age! What would his parents think of a Squib son? you ask yourself. They were - are - brilliant Aurors. More powerful than your average wizard or witch, gifted in Defence, and all that, and here was a boy, their son, who might be a Squib. Just think of what it would do to the family name!

Now, the name might not be so prestigious as some others - the Potters, for instance, were one of the Ancient and Noble Houses, one of the few Light wizarding bloodlines which had that honour - but they're still well-off, and can trace the bloodline a good many centuries back. They're also small enough that a Squib can't just disappear; people notice that sort of thing. And besides, he's the heir, and his parents are hardly in a condition to procreate.

There must be something you can do. The child just can't be a Squib.

Well, accidental magic has a tendency to show itself in life-threatening situations, you know. And just because you know that the child won't be in any danger - you're not daft, for Merlin's sake - his dormant magic hardly can, right?

iii.

She screamed.

And then there was one.