A/N: You might think I'm insane to have started another story in the middle of a series, but this plot wasn't going away. Hopefully you'll enjoy reading it as much as I have writing it. Although I've been toying with the basic idea for a while, I finally decided to write this for Dark Lord Potter's September competition, where it placed first.
Once upon a time, three brothers came up with a plan to change the world forever. Centuries later, wizards still fight over the scraps of their power. However, only one person can truly lay claim to their destiny.
Part 1: Godric's Hollow
The sound of a child screaming in fear was far too common an occurrence these days. This time, James Potter had leapt out of his chair and drawn his wand almost before he had consciously registered the sound. He prowled to the window, lifting the curtain aside with the tip of his wand. On the other side of the street, a young woman was hugging her son as he cowered away from the ridiculous looking plastic scarecrow hanging from the lamp post. James rolled his eyes, and turned away with a faint smile.
"That kid should see a real Halloween," he said, replacing his wand in his back pocket. He sank back into the battered arm chair, grinning at the woman sitting across from him. "Bats and children in torn sheets – that's not Halloween."
"You're quite right, darling," the red-haired woman murmured, leafing through her novel without looking up. "Maybe next year you and Sirius should arrange the trick or treating, hmm?"
"I think that's a fantastic idea, actually," James said, watching her expectantly. His patience was rewarded; she looked up sharply, eyes narrowing in preparation for a familiar tirade. Her expression softened as she met his eyes, and she shook her head fondly.
"You'd scare all the children half to death, and we'd be run out of town by people with pitchforks and torches. We would singlehandedly restart witch hunting, shatter the Statute of Secrecy, and be exiled from the Wizarding World forever."
"I think you might be exaggerating a tad, Lily," James said, putting on a hurt expression. The sight of his drooping lip and wide eyes drew a giggle from his wife, and she put her book down on the coffee table next to her.
"I wish I could believe that, I really do. Let's be honest though – does Sirius even understand the basic idea behind restraint?"
"I'm not sure he knows how to spell it," James admitted. He leant back in the chair, stretching his legs out, crossed at the ankles in a position that managed to combine comfort, nonchalant style, and an excellent view of his new boots, which he was still prone to admiring in quieter moments. Knowing perfectly well what he was up to, Lily sighed and went to pick up her book once more. For a short moment, the only sounds were the crackle of burning logs and the rustle of well-thumbed pages. James' eyes drifted closed, sleep seeping over him slowly. He loved his new son dearly, but he would kill for a decent night's sleep.
As if the thought had been a conjuration, wails began to ring down the stairs. Lily dropped her book with a groan, and went to stand up. James waved her down, shaking his head. "I reckon this one's my turn, Lil. Relax for a change."
"Oh, you're a star," she said with a grateful smile. "I was just getting to the good bit too."
"Enjoy," he said, wandering out of the lounge. As he started to climb the stairs, he looked over the bannisters and called out to her: "The butler did it, by the way!" He broke out in a laugh as he hopped up a couple of steps, neatly dodging the Stinging hex that whizzed through the bannisters and impacted against the wall. "Love you, honey!"
Still chuckling, he walked into his son's room. Harry was standing up, supporting himself on the bars of his crib, and screaming as like only an angry baby could. His screwed up face was bright red, and his eyes were shut tight. James reached in and picked him up, cradling him against his shoulder.
"And what's up with you, little man? Not hungry are you? Don't want to disturb your mother if I don't have to…"
He paced back and forth in front of the window, humming softly to Harry. The sound and motion eventually worked their magic; before long, Harry was quiet again, resting his face in his father's neck. Catching a glimpse of his reflection in the window, James realised he had an enormous grin on his face.
"Sirius would be ashamed of you, you soppy sod," he muttered to himself, still beaming. Gently bumping Harry up and down, he paused to look out of the window. There were no more kids in the street, their parents clearly having torn them away from the sweets and cheap scares. The realisation that, in a few years time, he might find himself taking Harry through the same rigmarole crossed his mind, and he frowned. It was a disadvantage of the mostly Muggle village that he had never considered before, and he vowed that Harry would certainly experience a proper Wizarding celebration as well as the quieter one.
All of a sudden, he noticed one lone reveller still walking the street. He had to admit, the man's costume was rather good, by Muggle standards; a very close approximation of an evil wizard. The pale skin was a bit cliché and unrealistic, but he supposed it would work for the children.
Then the man stopped outside the Potter's house, and James took a startled step back. He had seen that face before.
He practically ran from the room, trying to achieve an impossible mix of stealth and haste as he did so – Voldemort had shown supernatural awareness of his surroundings on other occasions, and it would be suicidal to assume otherwise now. He finally came to a halt at the bottom of the stairs, and peeked through the little glass window at the top of the door. The pale wizard was still standing at the gate, almost serene. What was he waiting for?
"Lily!" James hissed. "Come here!"
His wife appeared at the door to the living room, a confused expression on her face. "James? What's wrong? What on earth are you doing?"
"He's here. We've got to get out," he told her brusquely. Shifting his hold on Harry to support him with just his left hand, he drew his wand.
"Who's here? What are you talking about?"
"Voldemort," he said. Lily blanched, and she hurried to her husband's side, looking out of the window herself. She crouched down behind the door, her hand to her mouth.
"Oh God. Oh God, what do we do?"
"We get the fuck out of here," James replied, taking her hand. Trying to marshal his whirling thoughts into something coherent, he brought up the image of Sirius's flat in his head. Holding it in his mind's eye, he tried to Apparate.
There was a distinct lack of pressure. He opened his eyes, and groaned at the familiar sight of his own front hall.
"He's warded us, hasn't he?" There was no questioning tone to Lily's words: just a flat resignation. The sound of it fired something deep inside James, and he thrust Harry towards her.
"Yeah, but fuck him. Take Harry upstairs, get a message to Dumbledore." He paused, taking another look through the glass. The Dark Lord was walking slowly up the path, a pale length of wood held loosely in his hand. "I'll hold him down here as long as I can."
"James, no!" Lily grasped his arm, looking up at him pleadingly. "Please, you don't need to do this!"
"Yeah, I really do," he said, running his free hand over her hair. "Just make sure Harry's safe, ok?"
The finality in his voice brooked no argument; with one last fleeting glance at him, Lily ran upstairs. James hurried away from the door, taking up a position behind the doorframe to the dining room. As he heard the door to Harry's bedroom click shut, Voldemort's face appeared in the glass of the door.
The front door exploded in a shower of splinters and a cloud of smoke. James quickly threw up a Shield spell; he knew that Voldemort was not going to go down so easily, but he could dare to hope that he had at least been injured, however slightly. There was no answering spell, and James edged forward cautiously. The smoke began to clear, and he waved his wand, conjuring a breeze to waft it away quicker. There was no sign of his opponent. James's brow furrowed in confusion. It surely couldn't have been that easy? He took another step, the smoke drifting behind him.
When it came, the curse struck him with enough force to launch him from his feet, and he slammed sideways into the living room. Sliding to the ground in a crumpled heap, James looked up, hastily straightening his glasses. The smoke that he had parted had reformed, and Voldemort stood before him, slowly coming together once more. James's blood ran cold; he hadn't even realised such a thing was possible. The vivid red eyes stared down at him, empty of anything even resembling emotion.
"I should offer you congratulations, Mr Potter," Voldemort hissed softly, and there it was; every last drop of anger that the eyes did not reveal. James pressed himself against the sofa, bracing himself for another assault. "Do you know how long it is since anyone actually managed to land a curse on me? You should be proud – you made me bleed."
He held up his hand, and James could not repress the smirk that crossed his face. Voldemort's stark skin was peppered with little spots of blood where the door fragments had torn into him.
"But of course, I have killed people for less…" Voldemort raised his wand, almost negligently, and then all James knew was pain. In all the time he had spent with the Order, he had somehow managed to avoid being hit with the Cruciatus. He had never really considered how lucky he was in that. It felt like a thousand knives stabbing into him at once, like fire blazing along his bones, like poison in every last inch of his veins, like…like nothing he could think of.
Abruptly, the pain ceased. James slowly raised his head, his vision spotty, his entire body aching, and blood dripping from his mouth and nose. He swiped his hand over his mouth, smearing red over his palm, and sent a hate-filled glare at Voldemort.
The Dark Lord, however, was ignoring him. His head was cocked, as if he could hear something familiar. A wide, sinister smile spread over his lips, and he looked back down at James.
"I'd forgotten you had a child, Potter. So young…what would you do, that I would spare him?"
"I'd rip your heart out through your chest, you piece of shit," James said, spitting blood and lunging for his wand. Voldemort laughed maliciously, and a wave of unseen pressure forced James flat to the ground, drawing a cry of pain from him.
"I admire your spirit, I suppose, futile as it is – but do not harbour any illusions. You are a child." Voldemort stepped closer, planting his foot in the small of James's back, keeping him pressed down. "You are a child," he repeated, "and I am going to kill you, and your wife, and your baby boy…if you do not do exactly as I command. Do you understand me?"
James was quiet for a long, long moment. When he finally spoke, it was just one word: "Yes," he said, hating himself for it. He knew he could do nothing else, but doing anything to appease the dark wizard was utterly abhorrent to him. He could only hope that Lily had got her message out.
"Excellent," Voldemort said, and James could hear the smirk in his voice. He felt something grip him, and he was spun round violently so that he faced the other wizard. Voldemort's red eyes bored into him, and he could not look away.
"Now. I require your Cloak of Invisibility. Where is it?"
James blinked, the hypnotic spell broken. "My cloak? What d'you want that for?"
Voldemort flicked his wand, and a bolt of light struck James painfully in the face. He grit his teeth against the pain, biting back another cry. "That is none of your concern; I want it, and you have it."
James shook his head, an irrepressible laugh bubbling out of him. "No. No I don't. It's not here, not anymore. I haven't had it for months now."
Voldemort's face creased with displeasure, and he twitched his wand once more. James was hauled from the floor, suspended in mid-air at eye-level with the dark wizard. For the first time, James realised with a start just how unnaturally tall his opponent was. Voldemort was barely human anymore, so much had he altered his own body.
"Do not play me for a fool, boy," Voldemort whispered. His eyes locked with James's, and there was a sudden pressure at the forefront of James's memory. He recognised the signs of Legilimency, and he reflexively responded, diverting the probe away as best he could. The effort left him breathless; Voldemort's will was far stronger than his own. The mere attempt seemed effective though; Voldemort snarled, flashing teeth that looked disturbingly like fangs.
"I will have that Cloak, if I have to tear this house apart to find it!"
"I don't think that will be necessary, Tom," a quiet voice sounded from the doorway behind them. James looked blearily over Voldemort's shoulder, and his spirits soared.
With a wordless snarl, Voldemort threw James from him, and he once more found himself curled against a wall. He lay there, dazed and wandless, watching the two wizards face off. Dumbledore flicked his eyes around the room, taking in the damage with a cursory glance.
"Was there really a need for this destruction, Tom? People do live here, you know. James, might I suggest that you attend to your good lady wife? I am sure she is rather distressed at present."
"I'll…I'll get right on that, sir," James managed, pushing himself up. Something shifted inside him, sending another spike of pain ripping through him, and he sank back to the floor with a groan. Dumbledore shot him a concerned look.
"Perhaps not then. Don't trouble yourself, my boy. All will be well."
James managed a feeble grin, and Dumbledore returned his attention to Voldemort. The dark wizard had not moved since the headmaster had arrived, but he looked ready for anything; there was a faint light hovering at the tip of his wand, and his bright eyes were fixed on every little movement Dumbledore made. He raised his wand hand, ever so slightly, at Dumbledore's eyes met his, and immediately James could see his fury, his shame at his inadvertent display.
"You shouldn't have come here, Dumbledore," Voldemort spoke softly, running his fingers over his wand. "This does not concern you."
"I beg to differ," the old wizard replied, a glimmer of amusement in his blue eyes. "I rather think that everything you do concerns me. A great deal, as it happens." Without appearing to move, somehow Dumbledore drew attention to his hand. He was holding his wand casually, but obviously. "Now, where are we going from here, Tom? I see no need for further violence. If you surrender your wand now, I might be able to persuade the Aurors to be a little lenient on you."
A cold smile graced Voldemort's thin lips. "You wouldn't try, even if it were possible. Don't try and lie to me, sir." He spat the last word, as if it tasted foul.
Dumbledore bowed his head, a sorrowful expression passing across his face. "You may well be right, Tom." And with that, the old wizard's wand blurred. The space between him and Voldemort was filled with painfully white light; James threw his hand across his eyes, there was a cracking sound, and the room shook. When James lowered his hand, blinking rapidly, Voldemort had disappeared. Just behind the spot where he had been standing, the sofa had been torn in two, the ragged edges sizzling quietly, and half the wall had disappeared.
"I do apologise for the damage, James. I will of course make sure that it is rectified as soon as possible. If you will excuse me…" Dumbledore bowed to his former pupil, and strode forward, stepping through the debris lightly. James stared after him, and then fumbled for his wand. Grasping it tightly, he pushed himself to his feet and staggered from the living room. Behind him, through the hole in the wall, he could see vivid flashes of light in the kitchen as the two wizards exchanged spells. The stairs were a struggle for his still pain-wracked body, but he went as quickly as he could. As he reached Harry's room, there was a booming noise from below, and the sound of shattering crockery. Wincing, he hammered on the door.
"Lily! Lily, it's me, come on! Dumbledore's here…"
The door creaked open slightly, revealing the tip of Lily's wand and one of her bright green eyes. Apparently satisfied with what she saw, she opened the door properly, letting her husband in. She was still pale with panic.
"What's happening? It sounds horrible! Are you ok?" She reached out, taking his shoulder. He gasped, another jolt of pain bursting through him, but he forced a smile.
"Never better, but I think the sofa's had it. Where's Harry?"
"He's here." She turned away, pulling open a cupboard to reveal their son. Somehow, he was still quiet, gurgling happily to himself. James scooped him up in one arm, and looked at his wife.
The kitchen was filled with the sound of cooling tiles and superheated air. There wasn't a cupboard that wasn't scorched and broken, water was spurting from the missing tap, and broken plates and pans lay scattered everywhere. The oven melted as Voldemort batted Dumbledore's latest spell into it, and the dark wizard snarled, whirling his wand in a complex, rapid arc around his body. The broken plates leapt into the air, and went spinning towards the older wizard. Dumbledore merely tutted, and gestured dismissively with his own wand. The plates were snatched from their arc and repositioned in a spiral around the headmaster's body.
"Is that really the best you can do, Tom? I must confess, I'm a touch disappointed. I thought we'd taught you better than that at Hogwarts at least, never mind what you've studied in your own time. I was expecting something a little more challenging."
Voldemort let out a wordless snarl, and stabbed his wand forward. Green light burst from the tip, and the room was filled with an awful rushing of wind. Dumbledore raised an eyebrow, and vanished with a pop of displaced air a mere heartbeat before the curse tore through the space he had occupied. The cupboard he had been standing in front of erupted in flames, and the broken plates fell to the ground with a crash. Voldemort paused, panting heavily.
He knew it was foolish to remain; Dumbledore hadn't managed to severely injure him – had barely touched him, in all honesty – but equally, the old bastard hadn't even broken sweat so far. Voldemort knew when he was outclassed, but he couldn't leave, not now. Not now Potter knew what he wanted. He didn't seem to know why, which spoke volumes for the man's ignorance, but that was irrelevant. If he left now, Potter would inevitably tell Dumbledore, and Dumbledore would know exactly why Voldemort wanted the Cloak. It would be put beyond his reach forever, if the headmaster had any say in the matter.
No. To leave – to flee, like a beaten dog – was not to be considered. The thought that Dumbledore, or even the Potters, might have summoned the Aurors crossed his mind, but he dismissed it. Unless they came en masse, they would fall before him as so many others had. He wasn't wounded, and Dumbledore was holding back, as he always did. He could still achieve his aims.
Emboldened by his decision, Voldemort prowled forwards, leaving the kitchen. The door was hanging from its hinges, pockmarked from spell-fire. Dumbledore was nowhere to be seen, for whatever that was worth. He moved onwards, standing in the centre of the hall, facing the front door.
"You belittle my magic, Albus, yet you aren't showing me what you can do either, are you?" Voldemort said, breaking the silence. He cocked his head, waiting for an answer, but none was forthcoming. "Where is the Albus Dumbledore of legend? You defeated Grindlewald without even trying, but you refuse to kill me. Why is that, hmm?"
"Who am I to make such a decision?" Dumbledore replied from behind him. Voldemort spun on his heel, a curse on the tip of his tongue, and a bolt of light leapt to life, crackling around the edge as it hissed through the air. Dumbledore was standing in the dining room, and he waved his wand; the grandfather clock that stood in the corner flew across the room to land in front of him. The curse impacted against it soundlessly. The glass and wood on the cover started to melt, and Voldemort raised his wand once more. Before he could cast again, the pendulum at the heart of the clock was shooting like an arrow towards him. He turned his planned curse into a Transfiguration; the pendulum split in two, the separate halves twisting and reshaping until two metal birds hung before him, all razor sharp talons and beaks. Another flick, and they turned and flew back towards Dumbledore.
The old wizard banished the grandfather clock at one, quick as a flash. The second he met with a column of fire; it melted the bird instantly, and carried on towards Voldemort. It struck him in the chest and threw him backwards, casting him out of the house. He landed in a heap on the lawn. The sound of footsteps told him that Dumbledore had followed.
"That's more like it, Tom," Dumbledore said pleasantly. "Not your best, of course, but a little imagination goes a long way. You have an admirable mind; it is a genuine tragedy that you have chosen to waste it in this fashion."
"Will you ever stop trying to teach me, Dumbledore?" Voldemort slowly climbed to his feet as he spoke, surreptitiously waving his wand behind him.
"I rather doubt it," Dumbledore replied. "A rather unfortunate habit of teachers, I'm afraid. We never stop seeing people as students." The headmaster's eyes hardened. "And you do have so much more to learn."
"Maybe so," Voldemort allowed, rolling his hand in one final gesture. "Not from you, however."
With his final word, the ground around him erupted, flying into the air. Grass and soil, stones and leaves; they all responded to his spells, coming together to form a serpent bigger by far than either Voldemort or Dumbledore. The headmaster took a step back, alarmed, and raised his wand in a defensive gesture. The serpent was not meant for him though. Under the Dark Lord's direction, it tore through the wall of the Potter's cottage, vanishing inside.
"Do you think they can cope with that?" Voldemort asked, malicious pleasure dripping from his voice. "I doubt it myself, but I await your view with interest."
Dumbledore looked over his shoulder, clearly torn. Voldemort could understand that feeling; there was no danger of the smouldering wound on his chest killing him, even if left untreated, but if nothing else the sheer amount of magic that had been used would be attracting legal attention even as they stood there. The Aurors would doubtless be here any second, and with his wound he was no longer certain of victory over a group. However much he wanted the Cloak, it was not worth capture. Inevitably, Dumbledore turned his back on Voldemort, hurrying back inside to deal with the serpent.
And Voldemort vanished, dissipating into black smoke.
An hour later, Sirius Black was pacing up and down in front of his friend's cottage, occasionally waving his wand to repair some of the damage. He couldn't believe it; it was hardly the first time Voldemort had attacked someone personally, but that he would do it to someone Sirius knew, loved even…it was sobering. The thought that Lily and James – or, Merlin forbid it, little Harry – could so easily have died struck him deep. Turning his back on the cottage, telling himself that he didn't need the reassurance, that it was all for his friends sake, he looked for James and Lily, standing at the gate talking to some of the Muggle authorities. He knew that there would be at least one Obliviator standing next to them under an invisibility cloak, making sure that the Muggles heard little more than 'gas explosion', rather than 'astonishing display of magic'. Lily was still cradling Harry, who seemed remarkably unperturbed by it all.
They had arrived at his little flat in Oxford just over an hour previously, Apparating directly into his living room in defiance of all courtesy and common sense. He had quickly dismissed their apologies once the situation had become clear (and once he had apologised for setting James's hair on fire, a reflex response to unknown persons appearing in his personal space). They had arrived back mere moments after Voldemort had, apparently, fled. Dumbledore had been profoundly relieved that they had evaded the serpent Voldemort had created, but Sirius couldn't help but think the older wizard must have been incredibly frustrated to have given up the chance to take Voldemort down once and for all to save people who weren't actually there. Dumbledore would never say anything, of course, even if he did feel that way.
As Sirius watched, the Muggles James and Lily were talking to began to walk away, apparently satisfied with the explanation they had been given. His friends looked at a patch of empty air next to them, and Sirius was surprised to see Dumbledore appear from under a vanishing Disillusionment Charm. Lily hugged him, and set off towards the house, taking Harry with her. James hung back, apparently talking to Dumbledore about something. As he watched, Sirius frowned, confused; Dumbledore was still clutching his wand, and pointing it discretely at James. The wand tip glowed momentarily, and James stopped what he was saying, a blank look falling over his face. A moment later, he started talking again. Dumbledore smiled, and nodded, and clapped the younger man on the back. The gesture brought a smile to James's face, and he set off after Lily. Sirius called out to him as he walked past.
"Everything ok, James?"
"Yeah – well, all things considered, you know," his friend replied, shooting a look at the wreckage of his cottage. Sirius sympathised. The damage would take a couple of days at least to repair, and he wouldn't want to be living there in the meantime.
"You can always come to mine while everything's patched up, if you want," he offered.
"Thanks, mate, I appreciate that," James told him with a smile. "We'll be fine though. I'd rather stay here and make sure everything's ok."
"Fair enough," Sirius nodded. "Why do we think he was here, anyway?"
James shook his head. "Haven't a clue. Dumbledore reckons he just wanted us dead, that we've pissed him off too much for him to ignore. Pleasant thought, isn't it?"
"Something to be proud of, I guess," Sirius said. James grinned, and walked away, leaving Sirius to his own, troubled thoughts. The reasoning was perfectly sound; James and Lily were very active in the Order, and had been responsible for some stunning victories over Voldemort's followers. Something about it seemed off to him though, especially given Dumbledore's use of magic in his conversation with James. He was no expert, but he recognised a Memory Charm when he saw one being used.
"Is anything the matter, Sirius?"
Sirius looked up, startled. He hadn't noticed Dumbledore approaching. The older wizard was studying him with a penetrative gaze. Sirius shook his head.
"Nothing, sir. Just wondering why this happened?"
"Who can say?" Dumbledore replied with an expressive gesture. "James and Lily have certainly played their part in the fight against Voldemort, and he always was one to take such things personally. I doubt there is anything more to it than that."
"Then why did you need to Memory Charm James?" Sirius asked bluntly. He had never been any good at the word games Dumbledore so enjoyed. The headmaster raised an eyebrow questioningly.
"What on earth makes you think I would do such a thing?" he asked conversationally.
"I saw you," Sirius told him. "I know I did."
"Are you sure about that?" Dumbledore replied with a smile. Sirius opened his mouth to reply, then closed it, puzzled. What was he supposed to be sure about?
"I…I'm sorry, Professor. I think I tuned out for a moment there. What was I saying?"
"Don't trouble yourself, Sirius," Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling. "It's been a long night, and I'm sure your friends could use some company. Why don't you go and see?"
"I…yeah, sure," Sirius muttered. "I'll see you later, sir."
Dumbledore watched the younger man go, his expression troubled. That Voldemort had been looking for the Cloak was unfortunate, but not a huge shock; he was knowledgeable, after all. The fact that he had been able to track it so far was of more concern. He had only found out the Cloak's path recently himself, and then only because James had pressed it into his hands. Did Voldemort have some other, more knowledgeable source? And if so, how long before he found the other Hallows?
His mind filled with dark thoughts, Dumbledore turned on his heel, Disapparating with a crack.