Author's Note: This is the sequel, and FINAL part—this time I mean it! No, really! —of my previous story "Harry Potter and the Alternative Tournament". You need to read it first to understand this story. I've tried to stay as true as possible to that story, but since I wrote the 'epilogue' into it before I ever thought about this bit, there's a bit of wiggle here and there. Don't waste your time flaming me about that, I'm already aware; what's done is done. Blame capctr and many others (mostly capctr) for nagging me until I wrote this part. I do. Don't flame him, either; he didn't write this nonsense. He didn't even proof it for me, the bum. All faults and flaws are mine alone.
The RATING for this fic is M (Mature) for language, mostly. I don't write children's stories, I write for Big People, who are allowed to use Big People words, even though they shouldn't. (That's what I tell kids when they bust me. Then I give them candy and send them back to their Mothers all hyper. Yes, I'm evil like that.) That being said, my preference is always to over-rate my fics because I'd much rather err on the side of caution and responsibility. There's implied slash in the original story, but not so much in this one. Don't like, don't read, don't flame me if you're too stupid to ignore the warnings! I am not responsible for your ickle feelings, regardless. I issue warnings solely because I'm a wonderful person with a great personality and a lovely singing voice. Okay, my singing is rusty, but still…. There's exactly one hand squeeze, and one handshake and that's IT. If that's too much for your delicate sensibilities, then I've got nothing for you.
DISCLAIMER: as per usual, I make no profit from this work of fiction aside from the warm fuzzies your kind, loving reviews kindle in my withered old heart. I don't own Harry Potter or any other JKR character. Nor do I own any Disney (or any other) character you may or may not recognize, nor do I place any claim, lien or obligation upon them. They are borrowed under the Fair Use Doctrine, and have been put back neatly in their proper places in the toy box after I finished with them.
I do, however, own the entire Royal Family of England (holdings and properties included—the castles ROCK!) as well as all past, present and future Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom. I also am the secret love-child of Ming the Merciless and Queen Arachnia of the Spider People, hidden among the puny inhabitants of this insignificant mud ball until I can be retrieved by my godfather, Darth Vader, who will complete my training in the Dark Side of the Force. In one of my many castles. With cookies. And inflatable sheep filled with helium, to help them fly.
Anyone who believes any portion of the above paragraph (except the sheep, and the cookies—those I can actually lay hands on fairly quickly) is advised to stop reading and call the nearest facility for the care of the mentally/emotionally disturbed IMMEDIATELY. You need your medications adjusted.
HARRY POTTER and the INEVITABLE BATTLE
Albus Dumbledore sat in his Hogwarts office, seething.
The objects of his irritation—two nondescript pieces of parchment—lay on his desk before him. Both missives had been delivered just moments before by Harry Potter's snowy white owl, and said owl was even now perched beside Fawkes on his stand. The two were conversing in bird-language like old friends, which only served to irritate Albus further.
Albus looked down once more at the first letter, which destroyed any hope that his latest ploy to regain influence over the Brat-Who-Lived would succeed.
Headmaster, it read. Not 'Dear' or 'Esteemed', or any other honorific. Just 'Headmaster'.
Thank you for offering to tutor me in the ancient Art of Alchemy. However, I have already begun my studies of the field with another instructor. Since I am quite pleased with this instructor, I see no need to change tutors at this time.
It was signed Harry, Lord Potter, and sealed with the Potter seal. Again, no closing salutation, just a signature. It was scrupulously correct and polite, and as cold as the North Sea in January.
Grumbling to himself, he turned to the second letter, which had been sealed with a design he knew all too well.
Just how stupid do you think young Potter is? Offering to tutor him in Alchemy, but only at Hogwarts! I'll wager my second-best cauldron that you'd ram some stupid law through the Wizengamot the day after Harry arrived to make him stay and 'finish his apprenticeship' or some such rot. Well, it won't work. I've already started teaching the boy, and I must say he's a much better student than you ever thought about being!
Oh, by the way, because of the nature of the thing, there can only be ONE Sorcerer's Stone in existence at any one time. Imagine my surprise when all of my attempts to re-create the Stone came to naught. Since you were the last one to have my Stone, it stands to reason that you lied about destroying it, just like you've lied about so many other things over the years. No matter. Perry and I have all the gold we can ever spend, and we've found something much more palatable than the Elixir of Life. I should warn you; the stuff that the Stone produces tastes like it came out of a baboon's anus. Of course, you probably know that by now.
Dumbledore shuddered. He did indeed know just how horrible the Elixir of Life was, having already made himself several bottles worth of the awful brew.
At any rate, the boy's doing well enough, although he really doesn't have a gift for alchemy. Then again, neither did you, but you never let it hold you back.
Leave Harry alone. Leave Perry and me alone, too. If you don't, I'll be forced to take steps.
The more Dumbledore sat and steamed, the closer he came to a full-blown rage. That bastard Flammel didn't know the half of it! Albus had already planned to trick the Boy into a binding apprenticeship contract, very much like the one the Goblet of Fire created. Once it was in place, Potter would toe the line or loose his magic…and Albus Dumbledore would once again be in control! But now, it seemed that his latest scheme would not be the success he was counting on.
From Fawkes' perch, the white owl hooted in what sounded suspiciously like laughter, and spread her wings in preparation for flight. Albus' wand snapped up, and a hex went sizzling towards the 'defenseless' bird. Astonishingly, the hex was reflected back at the old wizard, who immediately found himself struggling to extinguish the flames in his beard and eyebrows.
Circling the smoldering wizard once, Hedwig left through the same window she had entered. On his perch, Fawkes watched her go sadly, while he contemplated once again his folly in binding himself to such a doddering old fool.
The preceding months had not been kind to the esteemed Headmaster. Following the debacle of the Triwizard Tournament, Harry Potter's testimony about the return of the Dark Lord—confirmed by pensieve and veritiserum testimony, and collaborated by no less a personage than Madam Mim—had very nearly toppled the Fudge government. The precipitous death of Lucius Malfoy, as well as the apprehension of a number of suspected Death Eaters named by Potter, had made an investigation into the circumstances surrounded the entire Tournament inevitable. The results of said investigation, sealed by the Wizengamot at Dumbledore's insistence, nonetheless leaked to the international wizarding press. When it hit the papers that a notorious Death Eater and Azkaban escapee had masqueraded as the Hogwarts DADA professor for almost the entire academic year, the Headmaster had come under siege from all sides. Ultimately, he was able to retain his post as Headmaster—just barely—but had been unceremoniously thrown out as Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot. Two weeks later, the ICW had called for a 'no confidence' vote in Dumbledore. Led by the Peruvian faction, the ballots had been…less than favorable to Albus.
Now, two of his most important titles stripped away, he was considerably less able to weather the storm of controversy that erupted when it became known that Harry Potter had effectively abandoned Hogwarts for good. In an impressive display of factual reporting, Rita Skeeter had quilled a series of articles on the steadily declining scores of Hogwarts students over the course of Dumbledore's tenure. The resulting outcry moved the Board of Governors to take a more active role in running his school, and Albus himself had been put on notice that, should he not cooperate fully, he would be given the sack.
Along with Binns and Trelawney, Snape had been dismissed from the faculty. Albus had been forced to dip into his own vaults to provide the Potions Master with a stipend to guarantee Snape's continued services. Fortunately for the Headmaster's vaults, in short order Snape had managed to garner enough private customers for his wares that Albus was no longer required to support his spy financially.
Sadly, Snape had been of little use as a spy for the Light as of late; his potions business consumed most of his time. At least, that was the excuse he made to Dumbledore. In reality, he'd decided that serving two arguably insane masters was more than any one man should have to put up with, and so had basically decided to sit out the next conflict between the two wizards. Severus had purchased a small cottage in Italy, and kept a 'grab and go' bag of his most important documents and possessions close to hand. That, and the extensive wards he'd erected around his residence, had thus far managed to keep the Potions Master alive and in reasonably good health…and out of the reach of both Death Eaters and members of Dumbledore's Order.
Composing himself with some effort, Dumbledore destroyed both letters with a casual wave of the Elder Wand. The new term would begin in a handful of days—he gritted his teeth as he remembered that this would have been Harry Potter's final year—and he had too many other things to attend to before September 1st.
While Albus Dumbledore was attending to those tasks which he absolutely could not foist off on his Deputy, the creature formerly known as Tom Riddle was making plans of his own.
"Wormtail, attend me!" the Dark Lord called out, and settled back to wait for his most faithful minion to appear. While he waited, he allowed his mind to drift back over the past several months.
Like Dumbledore, he'd not had the best of times since the debacle that was the third task of the Triwizard Tournament. With his most faithful followers named by that wretched Potter boy, not to mention the perfidy of that traitor Malfoy, he'd had only a few of his supporters left in Great Britain. Circumstances (including the loss of his arm, which had proved impossible to regrow on his construct body) had forced him to make a strategic withdrawal to the Continent.
Wormtail had only uttered the word 'retreat' that one time. A series of Crucios had seen to it that the rat didn't repeat THAT particular mistake again!
He'd returned to Albania, where the lack of anything even remotely resembling an organized Ministry made his life so much easier. Once there, he'd begun recruiting a new army of Death Eaters, as well as making plans to create himself a new body. Unfortunately, this had proved to be much more difficult that he'd originally believed; what he'd finally had to settle on did indeed have two arms, two legs, a torso and a head…but that was about all that could be said for it. His new body was even more inhuman than his last, no doubt a side effect of all of the snake parts that had gone into its construction. Now he was forced to wear a permanent glamour, which was annoying in that it required a constant trickle of his magic to maintain. It was certainly nothing major—he was a very powerful wizard, after all—but it was like having a magical itch that he couldn't quite reach to scratch. Still and all, it was better than having to kill a number of his new followers every time he met with them; some of them would invariably show signs of distaste at his scales and slitted pupils.
Personally, he thought his fangs were rather distinguished, but his underlings didn't seem to share his appreciation for them. Pity, that….
The well-publicized fates of his marked followers in Britain hadn't helped his recruiting. Nor had the many articles lauding the Boy Who Lived's apparent triumph over him in that wretched graveyard. Still and all, there was a large reservoir of anti-muggle sentiment throughout Europe for him to draw upon, and he'd not made the mistake of proceeding too hastily. He'd bided his time, and only allowed his new minions the occasional raid outside the confines of the crumbling old manor he'd set up as his new headquarters. Of course, there were still the revels; no one missed a few muggles here and there, and there were standards to be kept up, after all! Earning the Dark Mark had always required the recipient to destroy the life of a worthless muggle, and always would. That the life energy of said muggle, pathetic as though it usually was, went into creating the Mark and the Bond it held was one of his best-kept secrets. Had the true nature of the Dark Mark ever become widely known, it's unlikely that any sane witch or wizard would have consented to having their magical cores tied to his own in the most intimate of ways. At need, Voldemort could draw on (read: drain and/or suck dry) not only the magical power, but also the life force of his branded servants. It was just one more way he'd employed to make sure that he would never, ever succumb to the awful fate that was death.
But now, the ranks of his Death Eaters swollen to almost a thousand strong, his new body brought to the peak of condition, and the Potter brat once again out of the news (and out of England altogether, if his spies were to be believed) it was high time to claim what was rightfully his!
The Dark Lord came out of his reverie to see Wormtail peeking up from where he cowered the feet of his Lord. Distantly, Voldemort noted that the Rat was, as always, as far away from Nagini as he could possibly get. And, as usual, Nagini was tormenting the quivering man by slithering closer to him, tasting the air with her tongue as she came.
"Wormtail, summon the inner circle! Tonight, we began planning our return to Britain!"
Not surprisingly, Peter Pettigrew wasted no time in scurrying away to carry out his Master's orders.
Harry Potter rolled onto his stomach, used his wand to renew the tanning charm on his back, tucked his wand back under his towel, shifted until he was comfortable, and went back to dozing under the Caribbean sun.
He was well and truly on his way into a deep, restful sleep when a sudden jet of icy-cold water splashed on him.
Instantly going from sleep to full alertness, Harry grabbed his wand, rolled to his feet, and fired off a stinging hex at the nearest of three people pointing wands at him. Not waiting to see whether or not it hit, he rolled again—shielding as he went—before coming to his feet and throwing an overpowered blasting hex at the sand between him and his attackers.
Using the resulting cloud of sand thrown up as cover, he apparated some fifty meters down the beach, scanned the area for more enemies, and then dropped all three Tangos with three rapid-fire stunners. A quick Accio, and a triumphant Harry Potter was holding the wands of Sirius Black, Remus Lupin and Mad-Eye Moody.
Using a charm that he'd recently developed with a little help from 'Aunt Perry' Flammel, he buried the three in sand up to their necks, silenced them, and only then revived them.
Walking casually up to them, he made a show of pocketing their wands. "Constant Vigilance!" he laughed at the struggling Alastor Moody. Then, winking at his godfather and Remus, he strolled away in the direction of the local watering hole.
It was close to teatime, after all, and he was a growing boy.
When Harry entered the small cantina, he saw his Headmistress sitting at one of the few tables, delicately sipping from a coconut shell garnished with a small yellow umbrella. From experience, he knew that it was indeed a real coconut, hollowed out to hold drinks made using the milk of that very same coconut. Thus far, he'd only been allowed 'virgin' drinks—all of which had been delicious—but he had every intention of eventually having the 'adult' version. Someday, he promised himself….
Waving at the bartender, who was also the waiter, Harry mimed lifting a glass. The well-tanned older man smiled and nodded back, then immediately set to work mixing some concoction of fruit juices for the young man. Harry had yet to have the same drink twice, but had never had any complaints. It was yet another lesson he'd learned: find a good bartender, and then trust him implicitly.
Sirius and Mad-Eye had taught him that. Later that evening, Remus had taught him a charm specifically for cleaning vomit off shoes, after Sirius and Mad-Eye had imbibed a bit too much.
Mary Poppins smiled as Harry pulled out a chair and sat down. "I sent a group to fetch you for tea," she said. "I trust they will be along shortly?"
"Maybe," Harry shrugged. "Depends on how quick they can dig themselves out." When Mary Poppins raised one eyebrow questioningly, Harry grinned. "Well, they started it! Besides, their heads are above the high-tide mark," he went on. Then, tilting his head to one side, "I think."
"Well, if they haven't come back by the time you finish your tea, you can go and fetch them," Mary Poppins said casually. Then, looking up at the bartender, who was just bringing over Harry's drink, "I think we'll have something light this afternoon. Perhaps some fruit and salad?"
The bartender nodded. "I'll get Cookie right on it, ma'am," he said, bobbing his head and stepping away.
Mary Poppins nodded, satisfied, while Harry sipped his drink. As expected, it was some magical blend that fizzed on his tongue in a most delightful way.
"This came earlier," Mary Poppins said, handing Harry a thick envelope sealed with a large dollop of crimson wax. "I suspect that we both know what it is."
Harry put down his drink, nodding, and took the envelope with only a bit of trepidation. "They certainly don't believe in making you wait, do they?" he asked, not making any move to break the seal.
"No, I don't believe they feel unnecessary delays to be of any benefit," the older woman answered calmly. "The scores are tabulated immediately after the examinations, and compiling them can not possibly take more than a few days, at most."
Harry nodded, still not opening the envelope. Mary Poppins had insisted that he sit for the International Confederation of Wizards WISE exams, despite the fact that he'd passed his NEWTS the previous year. The WISE scores—Wizarding International Standards Examinations—were accepted globally, and not just in Europe and certain other countries. Harry's headmistress had pointed out that having both NEWTS and WISE would allow Harry to pursue further studies in any country. Remus had agreed, adding that a solid performance on the WISE was a prerequisite for a number of positions with the ICW. Apparently this didn't apply to the position of Supreme Mugwump, although Sirius suggested that Dumbledore had been a special case, elevated to the post shortly after his defeat of Grindelwald. It seemed reasonable, given the tremendous euphoria that swept the wizarding world when the war ended.
Sitting for the WISE was quite a bit different from the NEWTS. Unlike the NEWTS, where you could pick and choose which subjects to take, the WISE were comprehensive. After two days of exhausting written tests—if Harry never saw another 'Q' type question again, it would be too soon—there was a single day's break, and then two days of practical examination. Harry had a bit of trouble adjusting to the nomenclature of the test, but once he'd figured out that Transfiguration was broken down into Transmogrification and Conjuration, he'd quickly caught on.
He still was a bit fuzzy as to just exactly what Thaumaturgy was all about, but didn't let that bother him.
What had bothered Harry was that he was quite young to be sitting for the WISE. They were typically given after two or three years of advanced education—the equivalent of muggle University—and were required for entry into more advanced programs, or Master's apprenticeships. Despite reassurances from all of his tutors that he was ready for them, they had been a week of pure, undiluted torment for Harry (and everyone else taking them with him).
Harry now understood why Bermuda was such a popular place to sit the WISE. Under the official administration of the Canadian Ministry, most of the students from eastern North American came to the island nation for their exams. That the beaches were a perfect place to spend a week or two after the test (the phrase 'since we're already here' had been mentioned more than once during breaks in the exam) was purely coincidental. And at any minute, pigs would spontaneously sprout wings and fly, as well.
That the South Americans (and some North Americans) preferred Rio de Janeiro as their testing site was also certainly not a reflection on that city's superb beaches. Uh huh. Yeah. Right. You just keep on believing that. While you're at it, watch out for falling pig droppings.
"Harry, open it," a gentle voice interrupted Harry's musing.
"Oh, sorry," Harry blushed, then tore open the packet, disrupting the seal with a small flash of magic. Quickly he pulled out a sheaf of papers, but he only had eyes for the topmost letter.
"I passed!" he half-gasped, half-cheered. "I really did!"
"I expected no less," Mary Poppins sniffed, her eyes crinkling in amusement. "Now, let me see, if you please."
A bit stunned, Harry handed over the whole packet, then sat back and took a long swig from his drink. "I actually passed," he repeated, a broad grin spreading across his face.
"I see that you only scored sixty-two percent correct on the History portion," Mary Poppins peered at him over the detailed breakdown of his results. "I expect better of you, Mr. Potter."
"I told you they concentrated on Chinese and Japanese history, didn't I?" Harry defended himself. "How did I do on the rest?" He was more than a bit curious about his other scores. Obviously, he must have done well enough to average out to seventy percent correct overall, as the WISE was essentially 'pass-fail'. He'd heard that the usual pass rate was only about sixty percent, and a large number of people wound up having to endure the thing two or three times.
"Well enough in most things," Mary Poppins said easily, then favored Harry with a bright smile. "Better than ninety percent in Conjuration, Defensive Magic, Evocation, Incantations, Transmogrification, Arithmancy…and Potions. You did quite well, Harry. I'm thoroughly pleased with you. Now, I think you should read this," she went on, handing Harry a folded sheet of parchment.
Basking in the praise from his Headmistress, Harry opened the note and quickly scanned it. "It's from Uncle Nick," he said, reading on. "He says he's gone on to America, and he expects me to meet him there in a week. He's going to be spending the next few months as a guest lecturer in Alchemy at Miskatonic University, and he's holding a place for me in his introductory class." Harry looked up suspiciously. "Miskatonic requires the WISE exam for European transfer students, doesn't it?" he asked, already knowing the answer.
Mary Poppins' smile grew fractionally. "Yes, they do. It might have been once of the reasons I insisted you take the test," she admitted.
Harry was in too good a mood to protest her subtle manipulation. At least Mary Poppins had very good reasons for guiding him as she did, unlike certain Old Coots he could mention.
"So…three months in Massachusetts, then…where?" Harry asked. He didn't much worry about the details—he had Sirius, Remus and Mary Poppins to do that—but he was a bit curious.
"If you'll remember, you promised to return to Lima for the Solstice," Mary Poppins gently reminded him. "Barring a significantly compelling reason not to oblige Supreme Mugwump Alverez, it would be terribly rude not to keep that promise."
"As if," Harry scoffed. He'd come to be quite friendly with the tubby little Peruvian wizard and his associates, and was already looking forward to spending the holidays in South America.
"Indeed," was all that Mary Poppins had to say about that. "Now, what else does Master Flammel say?" she asked, already knowing the contents of the letter.
"I'm going to also be sitting in on Nick's advanced lectures, and he wants us to do some research in the Miskatonic library. He's going to arrange unrestricted access for both of us," Harry looked up, a gleam in his eyes. "Unrestricted access to their library? Does that include…?"
"You are NOT to even touch THAT book without Nicholas or I present, do you understand?" Mary Poppins interrupted sternly. Watching Harry deflate, she went on, "not that, at some point, it may prove necessary. Still, I won't have you dabbling about with the Necronomicon absent proper supervision. You may think that you can manage anything that might happen, but I am still your Headmistress! Until you complete a full seven years of tuition, that will continue to be the case." Under her repressive gaze, Harry wilted.
"Yes, ma'am," he said, chastened.
"Harry, wizards many years your senior have found themselves out of their depth with some of the more…esoteric…items in the restricted stacks of the Miskatonic library. At some point, which will almost certainly come sooner than any of us expect, you will be more than capable of using that knowledge properly. Until then, please trust the adults who care about you to help you reach that point without loosing yourself to…unfortunate circumstances." The warmth in Mary Poppins' voice was unmistakable.
"Yes, ma'am," Harry repeated. "Do you think that Voldie has ever read it?" he asked, suddenly curious. He didn't have to say what 'it' was.
"I most certainly do not know," Mary Poppins answered primly. "I rather doubt so, as we have no information that he ever traveled to the Americas, and there are no other copies known to exist."
"Copies of what?" an irritated voice demanded, as a bedraggled and sand-covered Sirius, Remus and Mad-Eye staggered, shuffled and thumped into the cantina.
"Never you mind," Mary Poppins said. "Now, sit down and have your tea."
"Potter, my wand," Mad-Eye demanded. "What have I told you about putting wands in your pocket? You'll loose a buttock, or your ballocks, and then where will you be?"
"Gee, Mr. Moody, is that what happened to you?" Harry asked, all grinning innocence.
"Cheeky git," Moody snorted, taking his wand and vanishing the sand from himself.
"Constant Vigilance!" Harry laughed. "Look down," he said.
Cursing, the old ex-Auror looked down to see that his peg leg had sprouted roots and was now stuck to the floor.
"Damn you, Potter," he groused, to general laughter all around.
The next few months passed in a whirlwind for Harry. True to his word, Nicholas Flammel managed to twist enough arms at Miskatonic to get Harry full access to their library stacks. Granted, it was with the proviso that he always have an escort when he went to the restricted sections, but that wasn't something that Harry really minded all that much. There was some horrible stuff down there, and having an adult along made him feel better. A small number of the faculty were vetted by Flammel and Mary Poppins before being allowed to be alone with Harry for personal instruction and such, and as always, he soaked up their teachings like a sponge.
He didn't pay much attention to what was happening in Europe. He had Sirius and Remus to do that for him, and was confident they would let him know about anything that truly merited his attention. Over the last years he'd become accustomed to regular updates from them on the 'Drivel of the Week' from the Daily Prophet, as well as the occasional nugget of good information from The Quibbler.
He did make it a point to catch up on The Quibbler every few weeks; Luna's father had given him a lifetime subscription. His favorite feature was the 'Where's Harry?' column that Ms. Lovegood obviously wrote. He'd been corresponding with the young Ravenclaw at semi-regular intervals since shortly after the second task of the Triwizard, and would frequently read his supposed exploits aloud at the dinner table.
According to Luna, his six months in Arabia and Egypt had been spent cavorting with various djinns, as well as learning to wrangle nundus. While some of that was close to the truth, he certainly hadn't acquired a pet nundu kitten, much less named it 'Mittens'. Similarly, he had been part of the ICW team that had taken down an aspiring Dark wizard in the Amazon basin, but he definitely hadn't begun training velociraptors as guard animals for his 'palatial Andean retreat'.
His vacation home in the Andes, purchased at the urging of the Supreme Mugwump, was a rather modest chalet, and the altitude made the 'raptors sluggish. Enchanted attack llamas were much better guard animals in those climes.
So, it was with a bit of trepidation that Harry greeted Remus when he came to breakfast late on the morning when they were to begin packing for their return to South America.
"Has anyone seen the latest Prophet?" Remus began, sitting down heavily. Not waiting for the shaking heads and muttered 'no's' to finish, he went on. "There was an attack last night in the Midlands, and the Dark Mark was seen. It looks like the trouble is starting again," he finished.
Only Mary Poppins and Harry sat calmly at this announcement, while Sirius and Mad-Eye began cursing in unison. Harry nodded once, then went back to his eggs and toast, while Mary Poppins merely extended her hand for the paper.
"I see," was her only response after she read the article, handing the paper over to a frantically gesturing Sirius.
"I guess that means we won't be going to South America after all," Mad-Eye opined.
"I don't see why not," Mary Poppins quickly answered. "Are there no Aurors in Britain to handle the situation? Aside from the Dark Mark, there has been no evidence to collaborate that this was the work of Death Eaters. Granted, the state of the bodies"—three wizards, two witches and four muggles had been tortured then killed—"is consistent with previous Death Eater activity, but one Dark Mark does not a pattern make."
"Who else?" Sirius demanded, still reading.
Mary Poppins gave the slightest of shrugs. "Perhaps it was done by aspiring supporters of the Dark Lord. Certainly there has not been a strong effort as of late to prevent such a thing."
At that, heads nodded all around the table. After the initial flurry of anti-Death Eater activity following the Triwizard Tournament, the Ministry had (predictably) fallen back into it's old practice of 'out of sight, out of mind'. Despite Amelia Bones' continued efforts to monitor for the resurgence of Voldemort sympathizers, Fudge had made several pronouncements to the effect that 'the danger has passed'.
"So, what do we do now?" Harry asked the important question.
"We do exactly as we have already planned, and pack today for our portkey to Lima in the morning," Mary Poppins answered firmly. "I suspect that Mr. Alvarez will have more information than the Prophet."
"And if he doesn't?" Remus asked carefully.
"Then who better to get such information?" Mary Poppins raised one eyebrow at the werewolf.
Since there really wasn't anything to be said to that, breakfast continued, albeit a bit more quietly as everyone was lost in his or her own thoughts.
Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards the Honorable Alvaro Garcia Alverez, Doctor of Thaumaturgy, Order of the Golden Heavens, Grand High Chief of the Andean Council of Shamen and Headmaster of the Peruvian Institute of Magic did not, in fact, have any more information than had been in the original article in the Daily Prophet.
To say that he was somewhat miffed by this would have been an accurate statement. Just as being hit by a tsunami would qualify as getting 'somewhat wet'.
The Supreme Mugwump had immediately dispatched a team of investigators to London to question the appropriate people, as well as to investigate the site of the attack just outside of Birmingham. While Harry and his entourage settled into the chalet (and Harry frolicked with his llamas), the SM waited with ill grace for his team to report back. On the third day after Harry & Co. returned to Peru, he stepped from the fire in the large main room of Harry's home. Since he was one of very few people keyed into the floo wards, the only response to his arrival was a pleasant chiming sound.
He'd once asked what would happen to anyone trying to floo in without being keyed to the wards. Evil grins all 'round had been his only answer. Considering the source of said grins (Potter, Black, Lupin and Moody; Mary Poppins had been out of the room at the time) he'd not pressed the issue. He was, after all, a firm believer in the concept of 'plausible deniability'.
Not finding anyone present, he made his way to the veranda of the home, which overlooked the terraced slopes and mountains of the Andes. There he found Mary Poppins, Harry's godfather and tutors cum advisors watching the Boy Who Lived as he moved about on the slopes below them.
"Supreme Mugwump," Sirius was the first to greet him. "Have a seat, Harry'll be back presently. He's out spoiling his pets with the last of a crate of carrots. Drink?" the Lord Black asked, gesturing to a nearby wet bar.
"Thank you, I think I shall," Mugwump Alvarez helped himself to a glass of fruit punch, then added a generous splash of rum before taking the indicated chair. "There's news, but not as much as there should be," he huffed, then threw back a generous swallow of his beverage. "Worse still, what there is isn't good."
Nods of understanding were all the answer he expected. Everyone present had experience with the British Ministry.
Just then, Harry bounded onto the porch, a small cria scrambling up the steps after him. "Mister Alvarez!" Harry yelled, far more loudly than propriety strictly allowed. "About time you came to visit!"
Alvarez couldn't help but smile at the young man's enthusiasm. "What can I say, Lord Potter, except that I'm a flobberworm when it comes to social obligations."
"True," Harry agreed, knowing it was a blatant lie. The man hadn't gotten where he was by ignoring the social niceties. "And you can stop with the 'Lord Potter' crap right now."
"As you say, Harry," the Supreme Mugwump laughed. Ancestral Spirits, he'd missed the boy! Then, suddenly serious, "I was just saying that the news from Britain is rather sparse, and not terribly good."
Harry shrugged, poured himself a glass of punch (no rum) and sat on the deck with his back to the bar. The cria immediately crawled into his lap, and Harry absently began stroking its head with his free hand. "So…Death Eaters, or not?"
Alvarez sighed and took another long drink before answering. "No one knows. The official position is that the attack was the work of 'rogue elements' with no connection to the Dark Lord." His voice made the quotation marks all too plain.
"And the 'unofficial position'?" Alastor Moody wanted to know.
The Supreme Mugwump allowed a small grin to form on his face. "Believe it or not, Fudge had already ordered Amelia Bones to do a full investigation, but quietly." As he expected, there were expressions of surprise at that little tidbit. "I know, it's totally out of character, but my spies think that he's scared spitless. He's afraid he'll get the same tender mercy Lucius Malfoy got in his gardens, so he's opened up one of his slush funds to pay for Auror overtime. I know, I know," Alvarez went on, enjoying the looks of shock he'd just caused, "but if there's one thing Cornelius Fudge is good at, it's protecting his own well-padded backside. If your Dark Lord really has picked now as the time to return to England, then Fudge has to be on a short list of 'people who need to die'."
"So just what is the official position of the ICW?" Remus asked carefully.
Alverez sighed and choose his next words carefully. "That for now, there is no compelling evidence to either support or refute the return of the so-called Lord Voldemort to Great Britain, and that we fully support the efforts and actions of the British Ministry as they continue to investigate the matter." He shrugged, choosing to ignore the various snorts and sniffs. "Unofficially, before you ask," he said, looking directly at Harry, "there have been some disturbing rumors coming from Europe, especially Albania, for some time now. My best people are working on it, but we don't have anything concrete as of yet."
"Alvaro, what is your best judgment?" Mary Poppins voice was soft.
"Mary, I just don't know," the Supreme Mugwump sighed. "You all know that we've been unable to infiltrate the organization we know has been building in Albania; Tom's been too paranoid this time around. All we have to go on is circumstantial evidence, hearsay and vague rumors. Sadly, mundanes go missing in that part of the world all the time, so we can't even point to definite increases in disappearances to help track the son of a whore."
"I still haven't finished unpacking," Harry sighed, putting down his drink to pet the cria with both hands. The furry little beast bleated its approval of that particular act.
"I'm not saying that you need to leave again immediately," the Supreme Mugwump shook his head. "At least, not until after the solstice."
"You still don't think you can summon a soul fragment from half way around the world, do you?" Sirius was frankly skeptical, and Moody and Lupin looked like they agreed with him.
Alvarez shrugged. "I'm told that it can be done. Wei Lu and Ahmed both agree that the solstice is the best time to do that particular ritual." All those present knew that Wei Lu Chen and Ahmed el Bazzi were the world's foremost authorities on horcruxes, as well as being Masters of several other fields. They had both been working on the 'Voldemort problem' for nearly two years, and had been instrumental in removing the soul fragment from Harry's scar, among other things.
"Won't Voldie notice when we pull the fragment out of his pet snake?" Harry asked.
Again, Alvarez could only shrug. "Ahmed and Wei Lu can't even agree on whether or not he might have noticed what's already been done to the others, so who knows?" It was an ongoing 'point of discussion' that occasionally reached the level of 'argument', which generally involved throwing things and shouting. While the diary was ancient history and the locket, cup, diadem and Harry had been taken care of, there remained the Resurrection Stone and Nagini. While Dumbledore claimed to have destroyed the bit of soul in the Stone (and had ignored both multiple warnings and common sense and tried to wear the cursed thing, giving himself a withered hand as a souvenir), Nagini had never been far from her Master. No one had come up with a workable plan to deal with that last horcrux, especially since Harry's ability to speak parseltongue had gone with the fragment of Tom's soul that was stuck in his head. The best idea they had was a complex ritual, done on the solstice with Harry's participation (as a previous receptacle), to draw the fragment from the serpent and place it in a crystal shard identical to the ones they already had. Harry had tried to follow the equations, but had lost Master Chen and Master el Bazzi after about fifteen minutes.
That his 'Uncle Nick' had looked at their work, shrugged and said "damned if I know" made Harry feel a bit better about his own performance. When Wei Lu Chen smacked him in the back of his head and said "Stupid boy! First, you destroy foolish Dark Lord. Then, you come spend three months with me, learn true mathemagics. No argument!", Harry felt better still, despite the sore spot.
It was commonly known that Wei Lu Chen didn't accept students, period. Every applicant was, according to him, "too stupid, you waste of time." Harry wasn't looking forward to those three months, but some opportunities you simply did NOT turn down.
To make matters worse, that son of a diseased camel el Bazzi had laughed himself silly at the time. Sirius was still ribbing Harry about that, despite all the hexes….
"So, we do the ritual on the solstice, and hopefully capture the last soul fragment," Mad-Eye Moody was going to be part of that ritual if he had to sell his best fake leg (the really nice one Harry had made for him in Paris). "Then, I think it's time that we found our way back to London."
"I don't really see any other course of action," Alvarez said, sighing. "I'll do what I can to support you, of course, but until Fudge formally asks the ICW for assistance, there's only so much I can do."
"We know that, and we appreciate your position, Mugwump," Remus Lupin, ever the diplomat, spoke up.
"Good. Just don't pay too much attention if you notice a few familiar faces now and then. It just so happens that a number of the ICW policia Harry has trained with might decide that now is a good time for a vacation in Europe, and I as Supreme Mugwump feel inclined to sign off on their vacation requests."
"Sure, England in wintertime; it's a bloody tourist magnet, it is," Harry laughed.
"Language, Harry!" Mary Poppins corrected her student, laughter in her voice. "I don't suppose that we'll be meeting with those vacationers before we leave, will we?" she asked the Mugwump.
"Actually, Headmistress Poppins, I may have suggested to them that it would be a good idea to speak with the locals, as it were, before anyone left the Americas," Alvarez said. Harry was impressed that he kept an absolutely straight face while he spoke. "By the way, I was expecting to see the Flammels here. Didn't they accompany you from America?"
"Aunt Perry dragged Uncle Nick along to carry things while she shopped," Harry grinned, then stood, the wiggling cria in his arms. "They'll be back shortly; you'll see them at supper." And then the Boy Who Lived was gone, bouncing off the deck to set the baby llama down, only to be chased by it down the slope towards the herd.
If the Supreme Mugwump of the ICW objected to basically being ordered to stay for the evening meal by a boy decades his junior, he didn't show it. Of course, he knew that Winky was never far from her Master Harry Potter Sir…and he'd had Winky's cooking.
The solstice that year fell on December 21st, and the ritual to capture the soul fragment from Nagini went off without any complications. When it was over, a previously clear crystal contained an oily smudge of black something that writhed and twisted in its depths. Like the other crystals that had become traps for the fragments of Voldemort's soul liberated from the other horcruxes, it left those who touched it with an intense desire to go and wash their hands.
The Supreme Mugwump had not been one of the people that carried out the ritual, by order of Master Chen. Alastor Moody was allowed to participate, along with Harry, of course, but Mary Poppins made it clear that she, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin would NOT be active participants under any circumstances. This proved to be a wise decision, as all of the seventeen participants were exhausted for several days thereafter. Mad-Eye slept for a solid eighteen hours, and was not himself again for several days. Harry, who acted as the focus of the ritual, was virtually comatose for two days, woke only to eat and visit the loo through Christmas, and spent Boxing Day lounging on the couch sipping hot chocolate and dozing. Fortunately, Mary Poppins, Sirius and Remus were there to stand watch over the two as they recovered, but nothing untoward occurred.
The ICW staff who monitored such things paid close attention to both the wizarding and mundane press throughout England and Europe, looking for any sign that the Dark Lord's agents were active after the ritual. That they found nothing was encouraging, as it was taken as evidence that the ritual had been accomplished without the Dark Lord's notice. Sadly, this could not have been further from the truth.
Peter Pettigrew collapsed onto the lumpy mattress of his bed, exhausted. Ever since the solstice, he'd been run ragged, and he saw no possibility of improvement in the near future. His feet hurt, his back ached, his hemorrhoids were flaring, and he had a pounding headache that just would not go away. Without the potions the Dark Lord's pet Master had provided (somehow, Snape had hidden himself behind wards that no one had been able to penetrate, and was doing business through intermediaries that wouldn't take the Dark Lord's coin), he'd been reduced to relying on muggle paracetamol tablets. They were effective, to be sure, but he knew that the Dark Lord 'frowned' upon such things, 'frowned' in this case meaning 'several long minutes under Crucio'.
Still, what choice did he have? It was either that, or suffer. And, since the Dark Lord was currently away from his new headquarters (after the 'retreat' fiasco, there was no chance that Peter would call it a 'hideout'), he was reasonably safe from Voldemort's displeasure.
Something had happened on the solstice, and Peter was still in the dark as to exactly what that was. He knew that something horrible, and fatal, had befallen that great bloody snake the Dark Lord doted on, and Voldemort had flown into a towering rage that had everyone running for cover. Then, the Dark Lord had disappeared, leaving Pettigrew in charge of setting up Headquarters (in a dilapidated old farm house just south of the Scottish border), managing the influx, in twos and threes, of the new cadre of Death Eaters from the Continent, and generally minding the store. His task was made all the more difficult by the paucity of funds at his disposal, as well as the deep-seated conviction of nearly every new recruit that it was only a matter of time before they were promoted to the Inner Circle…where it would be a simple matter of removing one Peter Pettigrew and taking his place as the Dark Lord's new 'most trusted servant'.
Well, Peter thought, I'm not exactly new to this game. He'd outlived Lucius Malfoy and a host of others, kept himself out of Azkaban, been the one to resurrect the Dark Lord, and then rescue him in that graveyard in Little Hangleton. For all his flaws (not that Wormtail would ever think such a thing near the Master), Voldemort respected loyalty. And, not to put too fine a point on it, it could even be considered that the Dark Lord owed Pettigrew a wizarding Life Debt. It was one of those things that were never to be spoken of, but there it was. Peter had no doubt that the Dark Lord was aware of it, and probably despised the fact that it was there. Still and all, it had been Peter Pettigrew who had been with Voldemort through thick and thin, and (a few Crucios here and there notwithstanding) it would be Peter Pettigrew standing beside him there at the end. Whenever that came, which Peter was beginning to suspect might come sooner than the Dark Lord planned….
Now, the day after Boxing Day, Peter finally had a few moments to himself to rest, relax, and possibly even take a well-deserved nap.
Then, his Dark Mark began to burn like a fresh brand. Apparently, the Dark Lord had returned from his errands. Judging by the amount of pain in the Mark, he wasn't in a very good mood, either.
Harry Potter woke up the morning after Boxing Day feeling better than he'd felt in quite some time. The soul-transfer ritual had been more draining than he'd expected; much worse than any of the others he'd participated in. Of course, all of the previous rituals had moved the soul fragment only a few feet, from horcrux to crystal, not pulled the fragment from half way around the globe.
He'd enjoyed his Boxing Day immensely. He'd still been out of it the day before, so he opened his presents and then lay back to watch Sirius play with them while he ate…and drank hot chocolate…and ate some more…and drank more chocolate…and ate some more…and drank some more…all day long. Winky and Mary Poppins had obviously conspired to 'replenish his energy levels' after the ritual, and his appetite had been in full agreement with that! Also, he wasn't stupid enough to think that any force on Earth could stand against the combined powers of his Headmistress and Number One house elf. So, he'd smiled, and taken third helpings of everything.
Mary Poppins hadn't said anything, but she stood over him with a pleased look on her face. Winky, on the other hand, had made no secret of the fact that she was happy that Master Harry Potter Sir was finally eating like a proper growing wizard.
Harry came into the kitchen of the chalet, the cria dancing behind him. Somehow, the little beast had found a way to circumvent the wards; it'd been in Harry's bed or on the couch with him since the night of the ritual. He found Mary Poppins sitting at the kitchen's spacious island, working on her correspondence.
"Morning, Mary Poppins," Harry said cheerfully, going straight to the refrigerator to scrounge for leftovers. He'd discovered quite by accident that the cria loved not only carrots but radishes as well, and he was in the mood for a bit of a nosh himself. He'd found the carrots, and was rummaging through various containers when Winky popped in.
"Master Harry Potter Sir is to be staying out of Winky's cooling box," the little elf declared. "He is to be sitting down and letting Winky be making him a proper breakfast."
"Okay, Winky," Harry agreed, keeping a carrot in his hand as he closed the box. Winky glared at him (and especially the cria, who snorted back), but didn't say anything as Harry climbed onto a stool beside his Headmistress.
"So…back to England?" Harry asked, holding the carrot so the cria could chew on it rather than the cuffs of his trousers. It tended to do that, if it felt it was being ignored.
Mary Poppins was obviously deep in concentration. "…just a moment, if you please," she said, then finished with the letter she was reading. "I'm sorry, Mr. Potter, that was a rather important bit of information. Now, you were saying…?"
Harry shrugged, not bothered in the slightest. "I was just asking if we're going back to England now."
"I think that's a good question, lad," Alastor Moody said, entering the kitchen. "Winky, is there tea for an old man?" he asked.
A steaming cup appeared on the counter in front of him, and Mad-Eye sipped it carefully. "Perfect, as always," he announced, nodding at the busily cooking elf. Winky's sniff was the only sign she heard him, but spoke volumes just by itself.
"Actually, Mr. Potter, I believe that we should spend some time concentrating on history, not only wizarding but that of the mundane world, as well. It has also been my intention to improve your knowledge of the classics before you graduate. Therefore, I have arranged for you to continue your studies in Greece for the next two months."
Harry nodded, not understanding but not much caring. He'd known that he'd pay for his low history score on the WISE at some point. And, he also knew that Mary Poppins did nothing without a good reason. If she said 'go to Greece', then he'd go to Greece. He did have once question, though.
"Will Nick and Perry come with us?"
"Master and Mrs. Flammel will indeed be accompanying us. Master Flammel informs me that, while your progress in alchemical studies has been more than satisfactory, he wishes to continue as your tutor for at least another two months. Also, there are…certain resources in Greece that I believe would be useful to you in future."
"Cradle of civilization, eh? Can't see anything wrong with that," Moody put in.
"Western civilization, at any rate," Mary Poppins corrected gently. "I'm glad you approve, Alastor."
"Do the boy good, see the architecture and such," the old Auror grinned. "Pity the beaches won't be very inviting in the dead of winter."
"There will be time for that later," Mary Poppins said, repressively. "This is not a holiday for any of us. I also expect you to keep up Mr. Potter's dueling schedule just as before."
Mad-Eye nodded, fixing both of his eyes on Harry, who was buttering a scone. "Little buggar can take me two out of three now. Have to get Sirius and Lupin to help me gang up on him," he said quietly.
Mary Poppins nodded, and replied just as quietly. "As you say, Alastor. I'm rather pleased with his progress."
"Aye," Moody nodded. Then, in a normal voice, "Oi, Winky! I'd give my third-best leg for a plate of your bangers and eggs!"
"Winky is knowing that Maddy-Eye's third best leg is a broom handle, and she is already having a fine broom," the elf said, sliding a plate of steaming sausage and scrambled eggs in front of him. "Now, the second-best leg…" she said, a thoughtful look on her face.
At that, Harry spewed pumpkin juice out of his nose, while Mad-Eye just sputtered and Mary Poppins' mouth twitched ever so slightly. That was the scene Sirius Black walked into at just that moment. Surveying the room, he stopped and stood in the doorway.
"All right, who's going to tell me what I missed?"
They were in Athens before the next day's Prophet caught up with them. Voldemort had obviously had a bad holiday, because the night after Boxing Day had seen destruction like nothing since the first war. Death Eaters—it had to be, based on eye-witness reports and multiple Dark Marks in the sky—had rampaged through several small wizarding and mixed hamlets. Dozens of magicals and muggles alike were confirmed dead, and as many more were still 'missing-unaccounted for' by the Ministry. The Obliviators felt like everything was under control, but if such raids continued, the muggles would undoubtedly begin to suspect something beyond the usual 'terrorist attacks' and 'gas line explosions' was going on.
That issue of the Prophet had caused an argument to break out in Harry's Inner Circle (and it amused Harry no end that he and the Dork Lord both had 'Inner Circles').
"I say we go back tonight!" Sirius was saying for the umpteenth time, pounding the table with his fist for emphasis.
"Aye! It's time to take the battle to the poxy buggars, if you ask me," Alastor Moody was in full agreement with Lord Black.
"The Supreme Mugwump is ready to send dozens of ICW wizards to Great Britain on a moment's notice. All Minister Fudge has to do is ask," Mary Poppins replied calmly.
"Fudge is a moron and you know it! He'd rather die himself than admit that the Ministry might possibly need a spot of help," Sirius barked.
"He may not have the luxury of that choice for much longer," Mary Poppins said grimly. "Harry's training is not yet to the point where he can stand against the Dark Lord. I assure you all," she said, giving a stern look to not only Sirius and Remus, but also Harry and the Flammels, who were sitting around the table. "We will return to England in good time."
"When will that be, Mary Poppins?" Remus asked quietly. He wondered if there would be anything left of magical Britain for them left to return to.
"Soon, Remus. Soon," the Headmistress of the Poppins Institute said, and the discussion was closed.
"Albus, whatever shall we do? Where's Harry? Is he safe? Why hasn't he returned to fight the Dark Lord? What chance do we have without him? You've as much as said that Harry is the only one who can defeat He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named!" Molly Weasley was in top form, and Dumbledore suspected that her screeching could be heard from Grimmauld Place all the way to Scotland.
"Molly, I assure you, there are quite a number of things we can do to oppose Lord Voldemort until Harry returns to vanquish him once and for all," the Headmaster soothed. Stupid cow, why can't she just bloody well shut her gob for once? he thought.
"Dumbledore, I hope that you have a better idea than just reacting to Death Eater attacks. That's getting us nowhere! We need to be proactive, not just reactive, to have any hope of blunting the number of causalities." Kingsley Shacklebolt rumbled from his seat halfway down the table. There were nods and murmurs of agreement from all sides at his statement.
"Kingsley, I understand your concern, but until our numbers are increased, I see no clear likelihood of success if we attempt to confront the Death Eaters directly," Dumbledore replied, a serious look on his face.
"It's getting hard to recruit new people," Nymphadora Tonks jumped in. "We loose people every time we run into the Death Eaters, while they just get stunned, booked, and then released the next day."
"Now Nymphadora, you know that we must give them a chance to repent and return to the Light," Dumbledore said, making a mental list of those who shook their heads in disagreement with his position.
"While our friends and families can only expect the Killing Curse? Albus, you don't win a war with cheering charms and tickling hexes! We need to fight fire with fire!" Minerva McGonagall spat. She'd become more and more reluctant to blindly follow Dumbledore's lead since the third task of the Triwizard Tournament and the subsequent fallout.
"Now, Minerva," Dumbledore tried to sooth his deputy, while inside he seethed at his inability to replace her at this juncture. "To do that would be to become the thing we most abhor…."
"What…alive and not dead?" a voice came from somewhere down the table.
Dumbledore's head snapped around, his eyes flashing for a fraction of a second before he brought himself back under control. "No, as Dark as the Death Eaters themselves. We must stay true to the Light, despite all of the odds stacked against us."
"So, better dead but pure of heart, than alive? Seems a bit extreme to me, Albus, especially that with us dead the Death Eaters would be running the country," Sturgis Podmore snapped.
"As if they're not already running it," Hestia Jones added. "Look at the facts: the Ministry holding cells are little more than a revolving door for any Death Eaters brought in by the Aurors. They claim Imperius, their solicitor arrives, they pay a fine, and out the door they go. They're never even asked to show their arms," she finished, disgusted. "I never signed up to be wand-fodder, Albus, and that's basically what you're asking us to be."
Dumbledore looked down, schooling his features into his 'regretful/sad' face before looking up. "My dear, I never asked you to be that," he lied through his teeth. "I simply fear the consequences if we adopt the tactics of our enemy."
"So, let's get some different tactics," Shacklebolt insisted. "We can always plan a trap or two, and we don't have to turn the marked ones we catch over to the Ministry immediately…."
"Would you have us run our own prison, then, Kingsley? Where, pray tell? Hogwarts?" Dumbledore asked, expecting….
"We can't put them in with the children!" Molly wailed, right on schedule. "We have no choice but to send them to the Ministry! No choice!"
"For all of its multitudinous flaws, I'm afraid that Molly is correct. The Ministry remains our only resource for dealing with captured Death Eaters." Seeing that he was on the verge of a mass walkout, Dumbledore changed the subject. "In other news, I believe that I may have information on the whereabouts of Harry Potter," he said.
True to form, that distracted everyone in the room.
Lord Voldemort sat in his chambers, deep in thought. Thus far, his return to England with a new army of Death Eaters was going exactly as planned. His minions in the Ministry had damped down any significant reaction to the influx of foreign wizards; most were here without the Ministry's knowledge, the rest had plausible explanations (and scrupulously correct paperwork) for being in the country at this time.
No, that was not what was bothering the Dark Lord. The sudden death of Nagini because of some ritual he didn't recognize—there could be no other reasonable explanation—had been the first indication that something might be amiss. Then, acting on a horrible suspicion, he'd spent a whirlwind few days checking on those horcruxes he'd been able to access. The Hogwarts wards kept him from the diadem, but every one of the others had been removed from their hiding places. They'd not been destroyed—he'd certainly have felt THAT, regardless of the distances involved—but were almost certainly in the hands of someone who meant to use them against him. He knew where at least one had gone; word of Dumbledore's withered hand was as good as an article on the front page of the Prophet. The old man had found the ring, and foolishly put it on. Good enough for him! The rotting curse had obviously been slowed (Snape, perhaps?), but would eventually kill the Headmaster. No, the question was, who had the others. More importantly, what would he have to do to reclaim them?
Irritated at himself, the Dark Lord contemplated, not for the first time, the fact that he'd done a piss-poor job of hiding the damned things in the first place. He'd been convinced that his protections were impassible, and that conceit had now landed him squarely in this dilemma. Well, he'd not repeat that mistake. Once he retrieved the other horcruxes, he'd see to it that they were much better protected. Perhaps at least one should go deep into the ice in Antarctica? He'd previously rejected an idea to sink one under the Arctic ice cap, since any decent resurrection ritual would require the soul fragment to be physically present. Witness the travesty of a body that had been the best Wormtail could manage without having access to one in Little Hangleton. Still, an ugly body was better than no body, as he could readily attest. Better the security of a well-hidden horcrux, and worry about cosmesis later.
In the meantime, he had no definite leads on the whereabouts of his soul fragments, and that frustrated him no end. Until and unless the culprit(s) who took his horcruxes acted, he had no choice but to bide his time.
For now…he had a country to terrorize into submission. Turning to a map of Great Britain stuck to a nearby wall, he began considering new targets for his Death Eaters.
The next weeks were not pleasant for anyone not a Death Eater, or with his or her head not buried so deeply inside a bodily orifice as to be oblivious to reality. Death Eater raids occurred seemingly at will, with the Order typically arriving too late to do much more than put out the fires and patch up the wounded. Then, just as the situations were being controlled, the Aurors would arrive to harass everyone and generally make a nuisance of themselves.
Voldemort had taken to visiting the Ministry on a semi-regular basis. His features concealed behind a powerful glamour, he'd adopted the identity of a British wizard who'd 'left for the Americas' years previously. That the 'son of a poor but old pureblood family' had 'made his fortune in the New World' before 'returning to his ancestral home' played well to the idiots in the Ministry.
That no one had ever heard of him was never an issue. Voldemort suspected that no one wanted to admit their ignorance, so everyone just smiled and went along with the tale as he told it.
He'd found a few potential new recruits, but was holding off on formally Marking them. There would be time enough for that later. He'd also had the 'pleasure' of meeting Delores Umbridge in person. He'd subsequently resolved to never, ever be alone in a room with the disgusting toad-woman again, for all eternity.
Sadly, the hag was turning out to be incredibly useful. She had Fudge's ear, and was virulently pro-pureblood. Her hatred of mudbloods and half-bloods very nearly exceeded his own, and extended even further to Dark creatures and other non-human sentients. Voldemort had no love for the goblins, but carried a certain respect for the centaurs and vampires. Werewolves were merely tools to be used, as were house elves. To Umbridge, though, everything except a house elf was an abomination, fit only for the burning.
For the first time in, well, ever, the Dark Lord left a meeting with someone feeling like he was unclean and in desperate need of a shower. Sadly, he couldn't just kill her and be done. He could, however, enjoy a few pleasant fantasies concerning her inevitable demise.
He was immortal, after all. He could afford to wait.
Rita Skeeter was facing a dilemma.
She'd done some of her best work in slandering Harry Potter up, down and sideways in the Daily Prophet. Now, the rumor was that only Potter could stop He Who Must Not Be Named, and Potter had taken a runner. Rita had been very careful to avoid any mention of the Dark Lord or Death Eater activity—the Prophet had other (disposable) reporters for that—but she wasn't stupid. Crass, venal and totally without shame or morals? Yes. Stupid? No. She could read the paper as well as anyone, and listening to the talk around the office was enough to make anyone's blood run cold. Just overhearing the representatives from the Ministry come and give the latest spin on the news was thoroughly chilling. Voldemort had returned from wherever he'd run to after Potter bit his arm off (Rita had done a three-page expose on Harry Potter's 'Dark Transformation') with both arms and a new army of lethal thugs. Fudge's commission was 'still studying the problem' and was 'expected to produce a preliminary report no later than next year'. Meanwhile, the Obliviators were racking up the overtime pay, the muggles were starting to comment on the horrible state of the gas lines around the country, and the death tolls were mounting.
Thus, Rita's dilemma. She had no desire to live in a country run by a homicidal maniac. Stupid politicians were one thing (for a journalist like her, they were bread and butter); immortal, amoral Dark Lords were quite another, thank you very much!
She was confident that her articles had been one of the main reasons Harry Potter left England. The question that plagued her was how to reverse that very effect, opening the door for the Savior of the Wizarding World to return and, well, save them—without becoming a target of the Dark Lord's attention. Ever the narcissist, Rita assumed that she'd not only run off the Boy Who Lived, but would also receive the personal attention of You Know Who. The thought that she'd be a training exercise for new recruits never occurred to her.
She would never know that her fate had already been decided, and the attack on her flat later that week already planned, when everything changed.
The magnificent white owl swooped into the Daily Prophet's main newsroom and circled it twice before dropping the letter it clutched in its claws. Without stopping, it immediately flew out, disappearing out the same window it had used for its entrance.
That Rita's desk received not one but two splatterings of droppings was an odd coincidence no one bothered to notice. They were too busy fighting to read the letter to pay attention to Rita's screeching.
"It's from Harry Potter, and marked 'To the Wizarding World'!" the first person to grab the letter cried. Then, pandemonium broke out.
PROPHECY REVEALED! ONLY HARRY POTTER CAN DEFEAT THE DARK LORD! ONLY ONE CAN SURVIVE!
Albus Dumbledore swore and threw the special edition of the Prophet down. It was several minutes before he was calm enough to Accio the rag, and read it in its entirety. When he was finished, he made himself wait a full sixty seconds before taking a lemon drop, then a calming potion. Only then did he summon his staff, to discuss the contents of the paper.
Anthony Charles Lynton Blair had just arrived for his weekly visit with his Queen when a strange thing happened.
He'd become rather fond of these weekly meetings. He'd never been much of a Royalist, but he'd discovered that Her Majesty had a tremendous wealth of experience in politics; experience that, with a touch of deference from him, she'd be more than happy to share. There had been some unfortunate missteps from the Royals the previous year, but from that had emerged a very satisfactory working relationship, as far as the Prime Minister was concerned.
He had just taken a seat (after Her Majesty, of course) and was about to speak when a large snowy white owl somehow appeared in the audience chamber. The owl landed on the Queen's side table and dropped two letters. Then, it bowed to the Queen, took wing, and vanished out a side door for heavens only knew where.
The Queen, after a small initial shock, reached down and picked up the letters. Before Blair could protest, She had read both envelopes and was handing one to him.
"It appears, Prime Minister, that we have a new matter to consider," She said. Nodding, Blair took his own letter, thoughts of contact poison only briefly flitting through his mind. Surely not…and such an odd method of delivery! That could only mean….
"I recognize the Arms on the Seal," the Queen was saying as she broke said Seal. "That will be all," she said, dismissing the obligatory guard with a look and a nod. The man looked as if he was about to protest, but another look from Her Majesty silenced him. Once they were truly alone, the Queen extracted the pages and began reading. Hastily, Blair copied Her, scanning the pages as quickly as he could. He finished before the Monarch, and was going back through the pages a second time when She lowered the pages to her lap and fixed him with a steely glare.
"I suspect that you have been kept as much in the dark about these matters as I," Her Majesty began. "I expect you will be correcting this deficiency?" She asked. It was not really a question.
"Your Majesty may rest assured that I will make this an immediate priority," Blair answered, his mind racing. There was that painting in his office, of course. Then, there were those Special Projects in MI5 and MI6; they'd certainly be a place to start.
"That would be wise, Prime Minister. I have my own sources concerning this portion of My Subjects. Rest assured, any information which may come to light will be immediately shared with your office."
"That would be much appreciated, Your Majesty," the PM said honestly. For all that she reined but not ruled, Elisabeth II had a finely honed ability to not see and not hear things She shouldn't. Blair had become convinced that it—along with the incredible taste in hats, among other things—was one of the secrets of her long, successful reign. During that reign, she'd not seen and not heard more than almost any politician alive. That, in and of itself, gave her resources he couldn't hope to match. Especially given that, as Monarch, She had a direct link to 'those people' that he, as a 'muggle' (how he hated that word!) couldn't begin to approach.
"I will expect your report at our next meeting," the Queen was saying. "In the meantime, I believe you have other matters for Us to discuss?"
Tony Blair nodded, his mind turning to the first of several items he'd planned on bringing before Her Majesty. Shocking news or not, he still had a country to run.
Voldemort looked at the various papers spread before him, caught between the urge to burn them all to cinders, or burst out laughing. Morgana's saggy arse, Potter had certainly kicked wizarding Britain in the tender bits! Witch Weekly, the Crystal Ball and the Quibbler had all rushed special editions into print; the Prophet had contented itself with an expanded evening edition (and consequently, been well and truly scooped).
HARRY POTTER TELLS ALL! screamed one headline. BOY WHO LIVED ABUSED BY MUGGLES another announced. DUMBLEDORE TO BE QUESTIONED BY CHILD SERVICES ran below the fold, but amused the Dark Lord no end.
Less amusing was the story that ran under the header POTTER CHALLENGES DARK LORD: DEMANDS DUEL TO DEATH. The brat (or someone pulling his strings) had not only revealed the prophecy in its entirety—Dumbledore must be steamed about that—but then challenged him—HIM!—to one final battle 'to the death'. Potter had even made an interesting offer: in exchange for the cessation of Death Eater raids until their meeting, the Boy Who Lived would stay out of Great Britain until that day. Of course, should the Dark Mark be seen during that time, Potter said that he would return home…where it would be Open Season on Death Eaters. There was even a report that the ICW had given Potter carte blanche to do just that, British Ministry be damned. Well, that didn't bother Voldemort; minions were there to do his bidding and be disposable, not necessarily in that order. The Brat Who Lived was welcome to do his worst. Still, ignoring the blatant challenge would be seen as a sign of weakness, which was something he could not afford. Obviously, Potter thought he had all of his horcruxes. Nothing else would make the boy think he could possibly win. Unless the Old Fool had found the diadem…but of course, he hadn't. Voldemort felt confident that he'd hidden the Ravenclaw artifact too well in the Room, among so much magical junk that it would never be found…assuming, of course, that anyone else could ever find the Room in the first place, which he seriously doubted. No, there was no direct risk to him here. He was far more powerful than the boy could have become in such a short time, and immortal, to boot.
The brat would have to be punished, of course. The prophecy condemned him to death, but he would be made to suffer before Voldemort allowed him the privilege of death. Potter would also die knowing that he had failed, and that Voldemort would take his revenge on all of Potter's allies and ickle friends as he moved to consolidate his power in Britain. Then, when the time was ripe, those fools in the ICW would either bow down before him, or die. The Dark Lord was supremely unconcerned as to just which they might choose.
Now here was an interesting side story: the Crystal Ball had sent a reporter and photographer to Potter's muggle relatives, hoping to confirm or deny Potter's allegations of abuse and neglect at their hands (and Dumbledore's complicity therein). The reporter had been seriously injured by a muggle weapon wielded by one Vernon Dursley, who was now languishing in a Ministry holding cell awaiting trial. It was a foregone conclusion that he'd be Kissed—that particular law, a relic of the witch-burnings now centuries past, was still on the books—the only question was how long it would take to bring him to trial.
A board had already gone up in the Leaky Cauldron giving odds on just how long Harry's aunt and cousin would survive. Given that the horse-faced woman had refused multiple offers of protection from the Ministry, no one was giving any odds at all on 'more than three days'. If the letters to the Editors of the various publications were any gauge of the mood of wizarding England, Petunia and Dudders (what a name!) were as good as dead.
Voldemort snorted to himself. He certainly had no interest in killing them, or Vernon, either. They had made his point about the horribleness of muggles better than he ever could, just by being their muggle selves. No, he suspected that an otherwise fine, upstanding wizard or witch would take matters into their own hands, and shortly thereafter there would be another 'gas explosion' at Number 4, Privet Drive.
The more he read, the more amused the Dark Lord became. Potter had caused more chaos with one letter than he'd managed to cause with any one set of raids or attacks. He'd analyzed the Prophet's letter himself, and his findings confirmed those reported by the other newspapers. The paper—not parchment, but muggle paper—was of very high quality; the ink, thoroughly muggle. The writing was magically precise and perfect, but totally non-magical, as was the addressing of the envelopes, which matched the paper exactly. There were the faintest of creases running lengthwise along the pages, as if someone had lightly rolled a wand across each sheet, but nothing else could be found despite the most comprehensive revealing spells known. It had also been reported that every letter was identical, which implied magical duplication, but no trace of any such spell lingered. Surely Potter hadn't used muggle methods, had he? The only bit of magic in the letters was the Seal, which bore the Potter coat of arms. Potter had used magical wax, which prevented damage to the letters while en route, but that was the extent of it.
So, what to do? There was a prime opportunity here, given all of the uproar. That Fudge was going to be sacked was a given. Thus far, Rufus Scrimgeour and Amelia Bones were the two figures most openly discussed to replace him as Minister. Voldemort knew Scrimgeour, who was purely a 'power for the sake of power' player. Bones, on the other hand, had the reputation of being hard as nails, scrupulously fair, and thoroughly incorruptible. In other words, Amelia Bones was exactly not what he needed in a Minister.
He was aware that Amelia Bones had made it crystal clear that she did not want the Minister's chair. He was equally aware that her refusal had fanned the flames of a 'Draft Bones' movement that regarded a reluctance to have the job as the single best qualification for the job. He supposed he could just have her killed, but that would cause…complications.
That wasn't the only problem Potter had stirred up. Dumbledore was going to have to do some fancy dancing if he was going to avoid Azkaban, much less keep his position as Headmaster of Hogwarts. There were even calls to investigate the Wizengamot for allowing Fudge and Dumbledore to do what they had, without any oversight whatsoever. If that didn't subside, Voldemort had no doubt that any such investigation would be postponed until after a new Minister was seated. There was only so much change the government could stand at any one time. Of course, since the Wizengamot would have to investigate itself, there was every chance that any dirt would once again be swept under the official rug.
Still and all, the wizarding world had just received a rather brutal shock, and was reacting in typical fashion—badly. The question was just how he should play the situation to his best advantage.
After a moment's contemplation, Lord Voldemort took up quill and fresh parchment and composed a short letter to Harry, Lord Potter. A wave of his hand created four duplicates, and another spell folded and sealed them. He carefully addressed each one by hand—one to the Daily Prophet, Crystal Ball, Witch Weekly and Quibbler…and one to Harry Potter, himself.
I, Lord Voldemort, agree to meet Lord Potter in a magical Duel to the Death at noon on the 31st day of March of this year, said meeting to occur at the old Quidditch field in Godric's Hollow, West Country, England. I, Lord Voldemort affirm on my magic that neither my true supporters nor I will engage in any activity against either muggle or magical persons until said duel is completed. In return, I expect free passage for my supporters to said field, and will grant the same consideration to all those who wish to attend. I cannot, and will not, be responsible for the actions of those who have not yet formally committed to my service, whether or not they should embrace my cause. Nor will I make any promises concerning my actions following said Duel.
Done by my hand,
"Albus, you have to do something! Poor Harry needs training; he can't possibly be ready to face the Dark Lord! He's just a child, for Merlin's sake! Oh, Harry…!"
Albus sat there, his face impassive, while Molly Weasley went on…and on…and on. Finally, her husband managed to calm her down to the point that someone else could be heard above the caterwauling. How Arthur Weasley managed to stand the banshee was a matter of frequent speculation among those who knew them best. Arthur himself was a decent sort, if a bit odd; Molly was…difficult was the kindest descriptor usually applied to her. Some variant of Amortentia was the most commonly accepted theory….
"Voldemort's accepted Harry's challenge, Molly. There is very little that I can do at this point," Dumbledore shrugged. For once, he was telling the complete, unvarnished truth. Harry Potter was a legal adult, and was well within his rights to challenge the murderer of his parents to a duel to the death, exactly as he'd done.
"But…we have to find him, stop him, somehow! He's just a baby…" Molly's bosom heaved as she wailed. Dumbledore suppressed the wave of nausea the sight caused him, but was interrupted before he could respond.
"He's a fully qualified adult wizard and Lord of an Ancient and Noble House," Hestia Jones snapped. "He did well on his NEWTS, and also on the WISE, which have already been registered at the Ministry. He has a legitimate claim, and the law and tradition support him. The location he's named is part of the Potter estate, so he can do with it as he wants. There is Nothing. We. Can. Do." You idiot, she thought, glaring at the Weasley matron.
"…on Harry!" The Wesley twins had joined the Order the previous year, and were both grinning from ear to ear.
"No bet," Kingsley Shacklebolt grinned back.
"Kingsley, you've heard something?" Dumbledore pounced.
The massively built Auror shrugged. "Just rumors." He paused, enjoying the anticipation building around him. "There are…stories from the group that Harry was with during that raid in the Amazon last summer."
"Stories, Kingsley?" Dumbledore prodded. Damn the man, out with it!
"Nothing specific, except vague praise for how Harry handled himself," Shacklebolt grinned. "That, and I get the feeling that none of the people who saw him in action want to be on the wrong end of his wand."
Molly was still sniffling, and her next objection came out mixed with hysterical sobs. "But Harry…he can't be ready for this…that Poppins woman, she's no Dumbledore…he's the only one who could train Harry…and Harry's been gone so long…" she trailed off, blowing her nose in her apron with a sound that threatened to call erumpents from the woodwork.
"Alas, Molly is correct; I have not been able to train Harry as I would have liked," Dumbledore agreed, his face radiating regret and concern. "We can only hope that he has not been exposed to too many Dark influences," he went on, reinforcing the idea that he'd been nurturing among the Order for some time, "or that, should he triumph, he will not have irretrievably turned away from the Light." There, he thought, leaning back. Let them chew on that! Harry Potter, next Dark Lord. The word will get out, and before long young Mr. Potter will find himself in Azkaban. A few years there, and he'll be more than happy to submit to his kindly old Headmaster…just so long as it gets him away from the Dementors!
"And in the meantime…?" Dumbledore, lost in his own thoughts, didn't see who asked the question. Nonetheless, he had an answer ready, as always.
"In the meantime, we continue on as before. We must stand for the Light, and attempt to redeem those of our fellows who have fallen to the Dark."
The Order meeting went on for another hour after that, but as usual, nothing of consequence was discussed, debated or decided. For some reason, Dumbledore never got around to mentioning the note he'd received earlier that day.
Dumbledore: bring the ring to the Duel.
The morning of March 31st, 1998, dawned bright and clear, if a bit chilly. Early arrivers to the old Quidditch field found that the stands had been refurbished (although the rings were gone), and that large tents had been set up on opposite ends of the field. One end hosted a red and silver tent surrounded by flags bearing the Potter coat of arms (sanguine a hippogriff rampant argent charged with crossed wands sable), while banners with the same design hung proudly on either side of the tent entrance.
At the far end of the field was a tent in alternating black, green and silver panels. Around it, empty poles awaited the banner of the Dark Lord.
There had been no sign of the Dark Mark since Lord Voldemort's letters had arrived at the wizarding newspapers' offices. To most of wizarding Britain, the sudden cessation of Death Eater attacks was welcomed with a sigh of relief. While there was some concern about what might happen after the duel, the Dark Lord's willingness to keep his word to Harry Potter had emboldened quite a number of people to make the journey to Godric's Hollow to see the duel.
At the request of Minister Scrimgeour, the ICW had stepped in to help with 'crowd control' and 'event management'. The Ministry was treating the whole thing like the Quidditch World Cup redux, and muggle-repelling charms and other precautions had been put into place days before. There were even 'Death Eater' and 'non-Death Eater' entrances set up, to avoid any unnecessary unpleasantness.
That quite a number of those who passed through the 'non' entrance were actually ICW policia or Ministry Aurors in street robes went largely unremarked.
A number of vendors, smelling money to be made, had set up shop around the perimeter of the old field. Shortly after the sun came up, wonderful smells began filling the air as cooks prepared for the hungry mob everyone anticipated. The field itself, one-time home of the Hollow Men Quidditch team, hadn't seen much use since the Men folded in the early 1900s. Still, someone had done a wonderful job in preparing the site for what was being billed as the Duel of the Century.
Rita Skeeter didn't know who had done such an outstanding job with the field and other arrangements, but she was determined to find out. In her animagus form, she was perched on the banner across the 'non-Death Eater' entrance (it was actually labeled 'General Public'), where she could hear the conversations of those who passed under her.
Several members of the Wizengamot had just passed when Rita saw a tall, thin, dark-complected man escorting an even thinner woman towards her hiding place. The man sported a neatly trimmed beard, wore an odd style of robes and turban and carried a gold serpent-headed staff. The woman, whose hair was half-white (left) and half-black (on the right), wore a black evening gown and white fur coat. The only bits of color about her were her emerald earrings, the red liner of her coat, matching red elbow-length opera gloves and red shoes. She carried a muggle cigarette in a long black holder, and gestured with as she spoke.
"Actually, I haven't spent much time with the boy thus far," she was saying to her escort. "I was just wondering what your opinion of him was, so I know what to expect."
"You'll find that he's quite bright, and applies himself well," the tall man answered without hesitation. "He's quite powerful, but sadly, he seems to be firmly committed to the Light," he shook his head. "Oh, it's not that he doesn't have the aptitude for darker spells, quite the contrary; he drank in everything I showed him like desert sand drinks water. Despite my best efforts, he only wanted to learn about the Dark to know how to fight it." The Dark wizard's regret about this was clearly evident to both his escort and a stunned Rita Skeeter.
"Well, I'm certain that you did your best," the woman was saying. "You can't win them all, as they say," the woman shrugged.
"And what, pray tell, will you be teaching young Harry?" the foreign wizard asked the woman.
"Not magic, certainly," she said, laughing with the man. Rita found herself chilled by her laugh despite the warmth of the sun. "Business management, international finance, corporate ethics, that sort of thing. He's been letting the goblins manage his estate, but Mary wants me to prepare him to take over his own affairs." Her eyes gleamed as she went on. "He has the most lovely attraction to leather, did you know? He showed me a sample of the most ravishing snakeskin I think I've ever seen, and promised me a good thirty yards of it to use for my fall line. I'm going to do a show just for the wizarding world, using magical fabrics and skins; you simply must be there to see it!"
The man laughed, throwing his head back with his delight. "My dear Cruella, I wouldn't miss it for the world!" Laughing together, the pair passed out of Rita's hearing.
"I never expected Mary to call you," Rita was distracted from following the dark man and the strange woman by a voice directly beneath her.
"My dear Endora, why ever not? Who better to instruct our young Harry in the glories of English literature than the man who taught Will Shakespeare how to write a poem? The man who first brought the Bard's creations to life upon the stage of the Globe, who first uttered those immortal lines 'To be…or not to be…that is the question…" The man—an older gentleman in impeccable morning wear, right down to the spats—paused and raised his hand as he declaimed.
"The question is, how poor boy managed to survive without being bored to death," the woman replied. Rita froze, taking in the woman's diaphanous robes. Surely not, the reporter thought. That can't be….
"Endora…." the man's voice rumbled with implied threat.
"Oh, shut it, Maurice. We're here to see Harry Potter, not endure your recitations. Now come along, Samantha and the children have probably already arrived."
"Ah, yes, my lovely daughter and my equally lovely grandchildren. Thankfully, Samantha takes after my side of the family."
Rita could only cling there, stunned. If they had been training Harry Potter….
"'Scuze me! Is this where the insects are partying?" Rita instinctively flew back a few inches, startled. A bright blue bug of indeterminate species had just appeared beside her.
Unable to speak in her animagus form, Rita flew off. Once she was safely away and hidden behind a pretzel vendor's tent, she changed back into human form and snatched out her special Dicta-Quill and parchment.
"Harry Potter has apparently been trained by some of the darkest, most powerful mages on the planet," she muttered, the quill dancing across the parchment as she spoke. "This reporter has personally confirmed, at great danger to herself, that the Boy Who Lived has…AAAAAH!" Rita screamed as a large blue man appeared beside her with a 'baaf'.
"Ah, ah, ah, naughty, naughty!" the man said, hands blurring as he turned Rita's next front-page article into a shower of confetti. "Can't have you giving away my little buddy's secrets, now can we? Why don't you just take a little nap, cupcake, and when you wake up, this whole nasty duel will be over and done with!" Reaching out, he tapped Rita on the forehead before she could move away.
When Rita woke up several hours later, all she could remember was a vague image of a large blue man wearing a baseball cap, Hawaiian shirt, shorts and sandals. She had no idea who he was, or what she'd heard about Harry Potter earlier that day.
To make matters worse, Rita's editor was none too pleased that she didn't even watch Harry Potter duel the Dark Lord. To punish her, he put her on the social page beat for a month.
It was an interesting month, if you happened to care about the social pages.
At exactly 11:00 AM, a loud 'crack' announced the appearance of banners and flags around the black, green and silver tent. The skull and snake design of the Dark Mark in black sat on a field of dark green, with just enough silver trim to complete the Slytherin color scheme. At the same time, masked and robed Death Eaters began pouring into the stadium. They were eerily silent as they proceeded to take seats near the Dark Tent, and everyone else was more than willing to leave plenty of empty space all around them. Fortunately, someone had anticipated this, so the Death Eaters had one set of stands all to themselves.
Albus Dumbledore and the 'Hogwarts contingent'—McGonagall, Flitwick, Sprout and Sinestra (the new Head of Slytherin)—arrived shortly before noon via portkey, and promptly made a beeline for Harry's tent. There had been some debate about allowing the older students to attend, but the Headmaster had nixed this idea on the grounds that they would be in danger, should Harry loose.
The counter-argument—that their entire world was in danger, should Harry loose—was brushed off by Dumbledore as irrelevant. "Hogwarts' wards will protect them, even if Mr. Potter falls," he'd insisted. No one really believed him, of course, but no one was willing to go to the mat against him over the issue.
Ignoring the common courtesies, Dumbledore threw back the tent flap and strode in, eyes on 'full twinkle'. Ignoring the expected people in the tent—Sirius, Remus, Alastor, Oliver—the Headmaster closed on his target. "Harry, my boy…" he began, only to sputter a bit when he saw his school nurse already there, fussing and cooing over Harry Potter and "just how big you've grown!"
"Albus," Poppy Pomphrey spat, as all eyes in the tent went to the gobsmacked Headmaster. Then, all smiles once more, she turned back to Harry. "It does me good to see that you finally found someone who was allowed," she shot a venomous glare towards the Headmaster, "to give you proper medical treatment. Now, make sure that nothing happens to you that I can't set to rights! Understand, Mr. Potter?"
Harry grinned and half-heartedly dodged Poppy's attempt to muss his hair, not that it mattered. "Okay, Poppy. I'll try," he said.
"You do that, Mr. Potter," the mediwitch said, moving to one side where she continued to glare at her employer.
"Harry, my boy…." Dumbledore began again, only to be rudely interrupted.
"Lord Potter," Lord Potter snapped, his voice cold. "Did you bring the ring?"
Dumbledore shook himself, and tried once more. "Of course, you are Lord Potter now, Harry; congratulations. Now, quickly, I've brought a Time Turner; there's still a chance that you and I can…."
"Time Turner, Albus? You do have permission from the Ministry to use a controlled magical device in this situation, I trust?" Mary Poppins seemed to appear from nowhere to stand beside Harry.
"Mary Poppins, how delightful to see you once again. All of you; Sirius, Remus, Alastor, you're looking quite well. And Mr. Wood, how nice to see you once more. Now, if I can just borrow Harry for a few moments, I think we can make up for quite a bit of lost time…." Ignoring the cursed woman's questions about permissions that she knew he didn't have, Dumbledore pushed on.
"Not on your life," Harry Potter said coldly. "Now, hand over the ring."
"But, Harry, you must be trained by me before you face Lord Voldemort…" Dumbledore insisted.
"Not now, not ever," Harry repeated. "I'm done with you, Dumbledore. You never did squat to train me before, and now I don't need it. Give me the ring, and then leave," he said, shrugging and turning away.
"Mister Potter! You will show respect to the Headmaster!" McGonagall barked.
The look Harry Potter turned on the woman was enough to make her step back in shock. "He hasn't been my headmaster for nearly three years now, Professor. I thought you knew that. To me, he's just a meddling old coot, who among other things violated the law by sealing my parents will and placing me with my Aunt's family."
"Rest assured that you'll be hearing from our solicitor, Albus," Sirius smiled. "Eddie Spindle asked me to tell you he'll be in your office first thing tomorrow morning."
"And Polly Gallsworthy said for me to tell you he was looking forward to seeing you in court," Remus grinned toothily. "Something about 'long overdue paybacks', I think?"
"Hey, Albie!" Dumbledore's head snapped around. Then, he froze.
"Well, that was easy," Harry quipped, hopping easily off the bench and strolling over to where the Headmaster and his compatriots were standing like statues. "I'll just take this," Harry said, deftly removing Elder Wand from Dumbledore's sleeve. "Now, let's see if the old coot can follow instructions. Point me, Gaunt Ring!"
Immediately the Elder Wand whipped around, pointing directly at a pocket of the Headmaster's fuscia and vermillion robes. Harry pulled on a purple glove, reached in, and retrieved the ring with the fractured stone. Shaking his head, he tapped the Stone with his new wand and muttered a repairing spell that was much more complicated—and effective—than a simple Reparo. Then, he made another few passes over the stone, muttering all the while in parseltongue before nodding, satisfied. "Well, that's done," he announced, pocketing the ring and resuming his seat. "Finite Incantum," he said clearly, freeing the five Hogwarts Professors from their immobility.
"Harry…you took my wand…" Dumbledore gasped, immediately feeling the loss of his most prized possession.
"Yep, sure did," Harry smirked.
"But Harry…that wand…" Dumbledore sputtered, while the faculty stood shocked at what their former student had done, and to whom.
"Is very special, which is why I need it more than you do, right now. Thank you for bringing the Gaunt ring. You can go now."
"But Harry…I don't…." The Headmaster paused, then tried again. "You'll be facing Voldemort in just a few minutes. Do you think it's wise to be carrying the ring on your person when you do that?"
Harry shrugged. "Don't know. Not your problem, anyway."
Dumbledore set himself. "Harry, there are Dark curses on that ring that I've been unable to remove. One of them cost me my hand, and very nearly my life. I urge you to let me hold it…."
"No. They're parseltongue curses, dimwit. You couldn't remove them in a million years. I know you were told by at least two people not to put the ring on, as if common sense wouldn't tell you that. Did you ever consider asking anyone outside of your little circle for help removing the curse? Of course not," Harry laughed without humor. "By now, amputation is the only thing that might save you. Good luck with that, by the way."
Mary Poppins stepped up, separating her student from his former Headmaster and the four thoroughly shocked Professors. "You should all leave now. Harry needs a few minutes to prepare before noon."
Alastor Moody strode forward, grinning evilly. A tiny part of Dumbledore's mind noted that he had a new, much improved artificial leg. "Best leave now, Albus. You're not needed or wanted around here. If you hurry, you can still get your candy floss and find a good seat before my boy here," he tossed his head back at Harry, ignoring Harry's 'Oi!', "wipes his arse with your last epic failure." The scarred man paused, looking past the stunned Headmaster. "The rest of you, come back afterwards, if you want. Otherwise, all of you, get out!"
Between them, the Heads of Houses managed to drag the fuming Headmaster out of the tent before anything unpleasant occurred. To make matters worse, they didn't have time to get him any candy floss before taking their seats.
Dumbledore never noticed the small figure standing on the other side of the bench Harry sat on. When the tent was once again Headmaster-free, the chubby satyr jumped up on a stool so that he and Harry were eye to eye.
"Okay, kid, it's almost show time. Remember what I've told you, and you'll be fine. Just lead hard, and don't let the other guy find his rhythm. You're the best I've ever seen, and you know I've seen the best. Now, who's my champ?"
"I am, Phil," Harry grinned. "Don't worry; I got this. Just get that sack to me when it's time."
"No problem, kiddo. No, go out there and make me proud!"
Alvaro Garcia Alverez took his place in the section of the viewing stands reserved for 'Harry's tutors'. He'd been asked by Sirius Black to join his party in that section, and nothing short of an international catastrophe could have kept the Supreme Mugwump away.
In his many years, Alverez had seen much, done much, and read about much more. All of his vast experience, however, had not prepared him for the company he was now in.
All of Harry's tutors, it seemed, had shown up for what they were calling 'the Big Finish'. The Supreme Mugwump found himself not only seated near, but being introduced to, creatures out of nightmare and legend. He'd read the stories about Harry's teachers for the Triwizard Tournament, but never in his life expected to be flirting with the Sea Witch and Mim the Mad. Next to them, a dapper gentleman in gray morning coat and top hat was kissing the hand of every female in the box, complimenting them on their beauty in an upper class British accent. From time to time, the woman he introduced as his wife, Endora—a stern witch in pastel robes—looked away from the discussion she was having with Madam Maleficent and a witch she called 'Eglantine' to genially insult 'Maurice'. He saw Masters Chen and el Bazzi having a glare-fest with an Arabic wizard he didn't know. In the top row, the Flammels were sharing huge spools of candy floss with a large blue man in a muggle-style cap and hideous flowered shirt. Several other witches and wizards—Spirits above and below! Were those Sidhe? —he'd never seen before had already taken their places in the stands, and…Alvarez blinked, then looked again. There was a small, ancient Asian gent sitting beside a tall, muscular man, who was speaking to the old gentleman with an American accent.
Alvarez could have sworn the pair hadn't been there a moment before, and he'd not felt any magical 'ripples' to suggest that they had apparated or portkeyed in. Since he was usually quite good at sensing that kind of thing, it was a bit disquieting. Obviously, he'd have to speak to Nicholas Flammel about their identities, as the Master Alchemist had leaned over to laughingly offer the ancient one a spool of candy floss. Alvarez couldn't hear what the old man said, but his look of scorn was easy enough to see. Surprisingly, Flammel only laughed again when the old man took a caramel apple from Mrs. Flammel and began eating with obvious relish.
A raucous laugh from a skeletally thin woman in a white fur coat made him turn his head, and then….
"Supreme Mugwump! Glad you could make it!" Sirius Black was there, his voice booming over the crowd as he pumped Alvarez's hand.
"Wild hippogriffs couldn't keep me away, Lord Black," the head of the ICW answered, relieved to see a familiar face. "Mr. Lupin, Mr. Moody," he said, shaking each hand in turn. "Mary Poppins," he said, giving the woman a small bow. "I trust that young Mr. Potter is up to today's task?"
"I'm confident that he will do his best," Mary Poppins smiled and then turned to greet the other people in the section. Watching her work the crowd, Alvarez shook his head. What an amazing woman! And, she not only knew absolutely everyone worth knowing, but also had managed to keep them from killing her, her student, and those around them.
Given the reputations of some of the people (and otherwise) in the Poppins Institute section, Alvarez realized two things with bone-deep certainty. One, by keeping this group together and away from each other's throats, Mary Poppins had proved herself to be a remarkable person, indeed. Two, if Harry had been trained by all of these people…the so-called Dark Lord Voldemort was TOAST!
At the stroke of noon, Harry Potter stepped from his pavilion into the West Country sun. He wore a close fitting tunic, pants and boots made out of basilisk hide (Alvarez knew that for a fact, having seen it before), and carried two wands in forearm holsters. Aside from that, he carried no other obvious weapons.
A moment later, his opponent appeared, wearing a set of old-fashioned dueling robes. A gasp went up from the crowd at Lord Voldemort's appearance, as he'd foregone the glamour. It was time for the rabble to see their true visage of their Master.
Harry strode forward, and a small satyr and full-sized llama followed him out of the tent.
Alvarez leaned over to speak softly to Remus Lupin, who was on his left. "Is that the same cria that followed Harry everywhere over the solstice?" When Remus nodded, Alverez went on, confused. "I didn't think llamas grew that fast."
"They don't," Remus laughed quietly. "It got into Nick and Harry's alchemy lab, and somehow matured overnight. We're really not sure just what happened, but it seems healthy enough. Harry calls it…excuse me, her…'Sweetie', and Nicholas swears it's formed a familiar bond with Harry."
"But…Harry already has a familiar, and it's impossible to have two familiars at the same…." The Supreme Mugwump trailed off.
"We know. But, it looks like nobody told Harry, or Sweetie. Besides, Hedwig seems to like the beast." The werewolf nodded at the banner just to the left of where Harry had emerged, where the owl in question perched.
"And the satyr?"
If Remus noticed that the Supreme Mugwump's voice was weak, and that he looked a bit pale, the werewolf made no comment. "Oh, that's Philoctetes. We met him in Greece, and he's been Harry's physical conditioning trainer since January. Randy little buggar, no surprise there, and his heart's in the right place, for all that."
"I see," the Mugwump said, nodding as if he really did. Then, he stopped wondering about anything other than the two wizards facing off across the old Quidditch pitch.
Voldemort didn't have to look behind him to know that two Death Eaters in full regalia took their places just outside the tent entrance. Potter had written a detailed description of how today's entertainment would transpire, and Voldemort had been pleasantly surprised at just how well thought out the entire thing was. He'd had no trouble agreeing to the thing in every particular, especially since he intended to destroy Potter as quickly as possible and then loose his Death Eaters on the fool spectators. He'd known that there would be Aurors and ICW wizards liberally sprinkled in the crowd, but he'd also known that there would be enough sheep to thoroughly distract the gendarmes as they tried to flee in terror. His Death Eaters, naturally, would have no such liability, and so Voldemort anticipated a pleasant, triumphant afternoon. After that, well…with Potter dead, he literally had all the time in the world.
Harry walked to the center of the pitch and waited patiently for his opponent to meet him there. When Voldemort arrived, Harry smiled and began the 'obligatory pre-duel banter'.
"Sweet Circe's saggy tits, Tom! You're even uglier than before! I've heard about being hit with an ugly stick, but it looks like they beat you with the whole forest!"
"Ah, Harry Potter, such a pleasure. I see that your language hasn't improved since our last meeting."
"Nah, too much time spent hanging out with the wrong crowd. Ready to get royally butt-raped?"
The Dark Lord smiled, showing his fangs. "Are you, Potter? I must warn you, I've prepared a little surprise for you, should you decide to 'dragon out' today."
Harry grinned insolently. "Nah, not gonna eat you today. Took me three days to get the taste out of my mouth last time. Plus, you gave me the runs something awful."
"Pity," Voldemort smirked back. "So, then…you could just give up now, Potter. Lay down your wands, and I promise you a quick death."
"Well, that didn't work so well for you when I was a baby, now did it? What makes you think it'll work any better today?"
"I'll flay the skin from your bones, Potter, and then grind the bones to powder," Voldemort hissed.
"Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum," Harry laughed. "I smell…." He paused, sniffed the air. "Is that dung, Tom? Just what did you use to make this body?"
"I'm going to enjoy killing you, Potter. Then, when I'm finished, and finally beyond the reach of death, I'm going to kill everyone you've ever cared about. Then, I'm going to kill everyone you've ever known. Oh, and I've acquired a new wand, so you won't be able to use the Prior Incantum effect against me this time."
Harry gave an exaggerated shrug. "Big deal, Tom. I've got another wand, too. Want to see it?" he grinned, pulling the Elder Wand from its holster.
Voldemort blanched, but quickly recovered. "That's Dumbledore's wand," he bit out. Surely the boy couldn't have beaten his old mentor. "He gave that to you, didn't he?"
"More or less," Harry admitted with another shrug. "It's for the 'greater good', after all." Harry twirled the wand between his fingers. "Who knows, after I turn you into mulch, I might just give it back to the Old Coot. But, probably not," he smirked. "Since I'm going to do my damnedest to get him sent to Azkaban, he won't be needing it."
"I'm impressed, Potter. Such a pity you won't live to see that plan come to fruition. However, I promise you, I'll make sure that Dumbledore suffers greatly before I kill him."
"Gee, thanks…not," Harry said, grinning. Inside his head, a little voice kept repeating over and over 'stay calm, stay sharp…stay calm, stay sharp….' He could do this. He had to do this.
Voldemort hissed, his patience at an end. "Enough banter, Potter. We duel…to the death! Are you prepared?"
"Ready as I'll ever be," Harry answered. "Bow first, then on the count of three?"
"Agreed. On the count of three," Voldemort said, bowing just enough to say he had, his eyes never leaving his opponent. "One…Avada Kedavra!" the Dark Lord cried…and missed, because Harry had bowed then immediately rolled to his left.
"Viscus evertus!" Harry yelled as he rolled. "Come on, Tommy…like I didn't see that one coming? Sectumsempra! Relashio! Diffendo! Reducto! Confringo!"
The Dark Lord suddenly found himself on the defensive as he deflected Potter's entrail-expelling curse, then shielded against the rapid-fire attack the brat threw his way. He grunted as his Protego shook with the force of Potter's attacks, then returned the favor.
A string of hisses poured from Voldemort's mouth as he cast a series of rare, very painful curses at the diving, rolling boy. Potter wasn't shielding so much as managing to not be where his spells were landing. Well, he had an answer to that! Raising his wand high, he intoned a phrase in Sumerian. A wave of shimmering energy swept outwards from his feet in an ever-widening cone, wilting the grass as it passed.
Harry saw the wave coming towards him, and acted without conscious thought. Wrapping a shielding charm around him tightly, he fed it power and dove through the onrushing wave of magic. He felt his protection tingle as the Dark curse passed over it, but that was about it. Then, he was on his feet and attacking once more.
The Dark Lord cursed as the wretched urchin tumbled through his wave of death only to be forced to shield once again. That spell should have left the boy cringing on the ground, not firing off combat spells like a trained Hit Wizard. And where did the boy get the power for those spells? It had been many years since Voldemort had needed to expend so much effort in a simple duel….
But, Voldemort wasn't the most feared Dark Lord in centuries for nothing. He maintained his shield, waiting until the boy tired and was forced to pause for a moment. Then, he struck!
The bolt of sickly violet energy spat out of Voldemort's wand just as his shield dropped. Like most offensive spells, it couldn't be cast through a shield. Immediately, the Dark Lord raised another shield, then waited.
Harry didn't recognize the spell bearing down on him, but he wanted to try something. Reaching out with his wand, he intercepted the spell. Then, spinning completely around, he swung his wand over his head once, twice, before slashing it down in Voldemort's direction. The purplish spell—which Harry had managed to capture and then redirect—sped back at its caster almost twice as fast as it had come. It struck Voldemort's shield squarely, and then exploded with a loud, crackling 'FAZAATCH!'
Voldemort's shield held just long enough for the spell to dissipate, then collapsed. The feedback, however, caused Voldemort's wand arm to go numb, which gave Harry just the opening he'd been waiting for.
Now it was the Dark Lord's turn to dance and dodge as he frantically tried to shake some feeling back into his arm. He still had his wand—a simple sticking charm to the palm took care of that—but he couldn't feel anything below his elbow for several seconds. Fortunately for him, the feeling—and the ability to cast with his wand—quickly returned.
"Enough of this!" Voldemort roared. "Avada Kedavra! Avada Kedavra! Avada Kedavra! Avada Kedavra!" Burst after green burst of lethal energy shot out of Voldemort's wand towards the Boy Who Lived.
The Boy Who Lived spun, ducked and rolled, and conjured a large brass shield to avoid and intercept the barrage of killing curses flying at him. It was tiring, but not nearly as draining as, say, casting the killing curse over and over again.
Eventually, even the Dark Lord had to pause. Harry took the chance to wipe his brow, then flew right back into all-out attack. Within seconds, Voldemort found himself keeping his spleen in it's proper place, protecting his genitals from destruction, dodging what looked suspiciously like a bone marrow-to-boiling lead curse, and shielding against…was that the slug-vomiting hex? He was so shocked to see the prank spell mixed shamelessly in with truly horrid curses, that his shield slipped just enough to let Harry slide a clothes animation jinx past his defenses. To his great surprise, the Dark Lord found himself taking precious seconds to deanimate his robes before they could strangle him.
He finally sorted out his hostile garments, just to see the Brat Who Just Wouldn't Die standing there, laughing between gulps of air. The boy was sweating profusely, but otherwise appeared unharmed.
"My congratulations Potter. You've obviously worked hard, and learned much. Somehow, I rather doubt that Dumbledore taught you all that."
"Dumbles? Hells, no, Tom! Some of that was Mim, some was Maurice, some was Maleficent, some was Ursula, and some was Master Chiun. Oh, and some was just me. The clothes bit was Mrs. Brown, though," Harry admitted.
Voldemort paused. He knew about Mim, certainly. A shudder passed over him as he recalled that unpleasant episode in Little Hangleton. Maleficent and Ursula, he knew of them, as well. 'Maurice', 'Master Chiun' and 'Mrs. Brown' he didn't know, but it didn't matter. Whoever trained Potter had obviously done an excellent job. However, his own skills were not to be casually dismissed.
Gathering his energy, the Dark Lord began casting spells drawn from a thousand years of mystical writings. Bolts of fire and acid, jets of molten lava, winds that could strip a man's bones clean in seconds; all this and more Voldemort flung at Harry Potter. The young boy dodged some, deflected others, but ultimately was reduced to huddling behind the most powerful shield he could manage.
Voldemort smiled to himself. Now, it was time. No shield could block the Unforgivables….
Caught off guard, Harry screamed…and screamed…and screamed.
"Crucio! Crucio! Enjoying yourself yet, Potter? Crucio!"
Somewhere, deep inside the universe of agony that was Harry Potter, a small boy cried in his cupboard, alone, hungry, thirsty and afraid. Another boy, somewhat bigger but still small, found himself suddenly on top of the school roof, safe from the Harry Hunters. Yet another boy reached into an ancient hat, pulled out an equally ancient sword, and rammed the sword and most of his arm down the throat of a sixty-foot basilisk. Beside a lake in the Forbidden Forest, another boy cast a Patronus spell that drove back a hundred Dementors. And, somewhere in the roiling pain of Voldemort's curse, a young man focused his magic on the Elder Wand, and pushed.
The dirt beneath Harry's body exploded upward, throwing him back and showering the Dark Lord with debris. Naturally, the Dark Lord was forced to break off his spell, but quickly recovered. What he saw was not a body still wracked with the lingering effects of the Cruciatus curse, but a very angry young man, standing a bit unsteadily, staring at him with an expression of loathing in his emerald eyes.
"Enough, Tom. I can throw off your Imperius, break your Cruciatus, and dodge or block your AK. The last time you hit me with it, it bounced. Anything else, I can counter, or make you miss. For all your rituals and rites, you're still just one wizard, and the Fates told me that I can kill you. I'm not real happy with them right now—actually, I'm fed up with being their bitch—but I'm going to assume they knew what they were talking about. Give up now, and I'll make it easy for you to pass on."
"The Fates? And where, pray tell, did you meet the Fates, Potter? Do you really expect threatening me with mythical beings is going to make me roll over and die? Me? The Lord who from whom Death itself flees?" Voldemort threw back his head and laughed, long and hard.
"Okay, then. Let's rock," Harry said, then raised his wand arm above his head. Before the Dark Lord could react, Harry fell to his knees and plunged his wand into the ground, chanting in a language Voldemort didn't recognize.
Instantly, the Dark Lord felt a pressure on his feet, and tried to jump back. Since his feet had been suddenly encased in stone, he almost lost his balance. Flailing his arms to steady himself, he didn't notice the stone shooting up his legs until it had reached his waist. Contemptuously, he cast a powerful Finite, to no effect. Again, and once again he tried to end the strange spell, without success. As the rocks began to cover his arms, he became more and more frantic in his efforts to free himself. Finally, his arms and hands were completely hidden by the layers of stone, and he found himself unable to move. He began cursing, only to be silenced when a layer of rocks covered his mouth. Only then, did he notice Harry Potter stand up, leaving the Elder Wand in the ground where he'd stabbed it.
Voldemort was encased in a shroud of solid rock up the level of his nose slits. He could see, hear and breathe…but precious little else.
Harry shuddered, then drew a long, gasping breath. He was obviously knackered from the effort of his final spell. Then, he reached into a pocket and pulled out a small set of panpipes. Taking a few more cleansing breaths, he brought the pipes to his lips, and blew a single long note.
The note hung over the field for a moment, and then there was a muffled 'paaf' just outside of Voldemort's field of vision. He could, however, hear a new voice coming from just over his shoulder.
"Harry Potter! Long time, no see! How's it hanging, babe?"
Voldemort strained against his granite prison, but couldn't see the new arrival until he moved into Voldemort's line of sight. When he did, the Dark Lord's blood—well, what passed for blood, but was probably more accurately described as 'ichor'—ran cold.
"Hiya, Hades! Left, like always. How's tricks?" Harry's smile showed his exhaustion, but also his relief. If he showed any sign of fear at facing the Lord of the Underworld, he didn't show it.
"Never better, old son, never better! And you? Harry, my man, you're looking a bit peaky. When are you going to come see me, take some time off, let me show you around my digs, man?" Hades—blue-skinned, flame-headed God of the Nether Realms, Keeper of the Dead, the Unseen God, etc., etc.—put his arm around Harry Potter's shoulders like they were old friends. Even stranger, the young man seemed to briefly lean on the god's arm, before straightening.
"Maybe this summer, Hades. Depends on my schedule."
"Harry, Harry, Harry; this is me you're talking to. Say the word, I'll clear your schedule for you, won't cost you a thing. Do it just because I love you."
"Thanks but no thanks, Hades. Promise, I'll come visit soon, okay? In the meantime, I've got a present for you." Harry stepped away from the burning-hair deity, conjured himself a stool, and sat down heavily.
Hades turned to where Voldemort tried to wiggle in his prison of stone as if noticing it for the first time. "Well, slap my butt and call me Edna, if it isn't Lord Moldy Shorts himself." Stepping closer, he leered in Voldemort's face. "Tommy, Tommy, Tommy, you've been a bad monkey. Yep, a very bad monkey." Spinning, Hades spoke to Harry Potter once more. "Didn't he know that I'm the one god nobody cheats? I mean, really. Zeus and the gang are really picky about who we let into the Immortals club, you know? Think about it. We start letting just anybody in, and before you know it, all the best seats are taken, and there's always a line at the buffet. I ask you, where's the fun in that?"
Harry looked up at the ranting god and smiled. "Don't ask me, Big Guy. I didn't ask for this gig."
"Yeah, I know. Fate's bitch-boy, and all that. Sorry, kid, for what it's worth. Say," Hades slid closer, putting his arm around Harry once more. "When you were talking to the three hags, did they, like, maybe, happen to, I don't know, mention…me?"
Harry chuckled tiredly. "Hades, you know they didn't. Besides, even if they did, do you really think I'd piss 'em off by telling you? Come one, get real! I'm already their bitch; the last thing I want is the Fates putting me on their shit list."
Hades straightened, smiling down at Harry. "Point taken. Been there, done that, still can't give away the damn t-shirt. Anyway, had to ask, you understand; no, don't get up," Hades said, waving for Harry to keep his seat. "You got the goods?"
Harry turned around on his stool and waved in the general direction of his tent. "Phil! Sack!" he called out.
"You got it, kid!" The satyr picked up a silk bag, holding it so that the llama could take it in her mouth. Holding the bag, the llama pranced out to where Harry was waiting patiently.
"Thanks, Sweetie," Harry said as the llama bent over for him to scratch her ears. "Here you go, Hades; all the rest of Tommy's soul-bits."
Hades took the offered sack, opening it just enough to peer inside. "Good job, Harrikins. Out-friggin-standing job, in fact. Bet pulling that bit out of your head hurt like a mother, didn't it?"
"It wasn't a stroll in the park, no," Harry replied dryly. "I've got the ring, too, but Dumbles supposedly destroyed the fragment that was in it."
"Lesee," Hades said, holding out one hand. Harry reached into his pocket and pulled out the Gaunt ring, dropping it in Hades' hand.
"Hmm…most of it's gone, but I think…." Hades trailed off. Then, he put the ring to his lips and sucked gently. There was the faint sound of screaming, and then Hades was pulling the ring away, smacking his lips. "Yep, almost gone, but there was still one little bit left. Tasty, though. Dark, rich and very evil…my favorite!" The Unseen One rolled his eyes in pleasure, then gestured towards Harry with the sack. "Want a taste? Better than chocolate…."
"No, thanks; it's all for you, H-man." Harry laughed and rubbed his llama. The beast made a 'shurring' sound and butted Harry gently, affectionately.
"Harry, old son, I don't care what they write about you on those bathroom walls, in my book you're okay! Now, let's see what we can do about Mr. 'Flees from Death' here…."
Lord Voldemort felt true fear for the first time in many years as the God of the Underworld—"So, yeah, Voldie…who's mythical now?" Potter was taunting him—approached.
"Tom, Tom, Tom, Tom, Tom," Hades sighed. "Words fail me. You could have come to me; we could have worked a deal, made it happen. Instead, you read a few moldy old scrolls and decide to split your soul into itty-bitty pieces. What, did you think I wouldn't notice? News flash, Tommy…I eventually find out EVERYTHING!" Hades yelled his voice as thunder rolled across the valley. Then, calmly, he continued. "So…the question is, what to do with you?"
"Free me, Great One, that I may serve you," Voldemort tried to plead (and wasn't that just a new sensation!). Unfortunately, it came out as 'Mmmph mph, MMmk Mmum, mmk mmumh muh mMMuh muh'.
"What was that? You'll need to speak up," Hades answered, holding one hand to his ear. "Oh, you say that you're very sorry, and won't ever do it again? Well, that's all right, then." Suddenly he leaned in, close enough that his nose touched the slits in Voldemort's face where a nose should be. "Because, Voldie, you're mine now. Hate to tell you, but it's game over for Tommy Riddle. And, once you make the move to my league, you're pretty much washed up for the draft for, like, ever."
Voldemort flexed his magic, frantically trying to break loose of his bonds, move his hand, move his wand, anything! Harry noticed, and spoke up while Hades was once more peering into the bag and licking his lips in a thoroughly disturbing fashion.
"Hey, Voldie; wiggle all you want! Who do you think taught me this one?"
Hades looked up, but he was smiling. "Cool it, little man. Let's keep that little factoid on the down low, 'kay? Don't want word to get around that I'm all, like, helpful and stuff."
"Not a word, H. Sorry," Harry said, miming zipping his lips.
"No harm, no foul," Hades was still smiling. "I gotta say it again, I'm impressed. You don't see craftsmanship like this just everyday."
"I had lots of help," Harry said, lifting his hands in a 'what can I say?' gesture. "Dork Lord over there pee'd in a lot of cereal bowls. Finding people to help get rid of him wasn't that hard."
"You, my friend, are far too modest. That's one of the reasons I love you," Hades was in a genuinely good mood, which was not only rare, but also fortunate for most of the people within a fifty-mile radius. "Okay, enough of that. I got things to be, people to do, you know how it is."
"A god's work is never done," Harry said solemnly.
"You are sooo right…wait a minute. Did you just mock me?" Hades said, suddenly suspicious.
"Who, me? Never!" Harry protested, hitting the God of the Underworld with the puppy dog eyes on FULL.
Hades froze for a long second, then burst out laughing. "Oh, you crazy kid! You kill me! What a card!" Then, he snapped his fingers. "Me, I almost forgot! Got a prezzie for you!" Spinning, Hades put his finger on Voldemort's forehead, then pulled it back. Attached to the finger was a thick white mist, which finally separated from the Dark Lord's head with a loud 'pop'.
Judging by the way Voldemort's eyes rolled back in his head and the muffled scream, whatever happened was none too pleasant.
Ignoring the plight of the Dark Lord, Hades turned back to face Harry and flicked his finger at the Boy Who Won. The white mist formed itself into a ball as it sped towards Harry's face, where it impacted with a wet-sounding 'splorp' before passing into Harry's head.
"Oi! What the hell was that?" Harry protested, reaching up to feel his head for signs of damage. Finding none, he glared at the Keeper of the Dead.
"Just a little gift from me to you," Hades smiled, gesturing towards the now-angry Harry. Then, he saw the glare, and took a step back. "Whoa, now! That was just Tommy's power, most of it, and a few other things," he explained.
"No soul bits?" A wind sprang up from nowhere as Harry's anger built. Behind him, Sweetie—her ear rub having been abruptly stopped—barred her teeth and growled at the source of her Master's displeasure.
Hades had never seen a llama that growled like a grizzly bear and had the teeth to match. Raising his hands defensively, he went on quickly. "Easy there, podnuh; no harm, no foul, remember? And really," he went on, putting his hand over his chest, fingers splayed wide, one eyebrow going up. "When have you ever known me…ME!...to give up even a little bit of soul? Come on, Harry, this is me you're talking to."
The wind vanished, and Sweetie went back to 'shurring' as Harry calmed down and began scratching her once more. "Yeah. Sorry." Harry shrugged. "It's been a day, you know?"
Hades nodded, and smiled again, happy to have dodged that one. "I feel ya, kid. No, don't worry about it; it's just the power, and the parseltongue, and a few other things, bit of this, bit of that; might come in handy some day, you never know."
Harry felt himself fading rapidly, so he just nodded. "Yeah, thanks. Again, sorry," he apologized once more, only to see the god wave it off.
"Perfectly understandable, already forgotten. Now, before I go…seriously, Harry, come see me, before the next solstice. Bring the stick, the ring, and the cloak. And a bottle of firewhiskey, the good stuff, not that rotgut Mim likes."
"Er, okay. Next solstice, got it. Firewhiskey?" Harry repeated tiredly.
"Stuff's a great hair tonic, makes the flames all shiny," Hades explained, primping. Then, serious again. "Before the solstice, okay? It's one of those 'cosmic balance, universe could unravel' kind of things. Easy-peasy if we nip it in the bud, big pain in the butt if we don't."
Harry had just enough energy to nod. "Yeah. Got it. Once more into the breech, Fate's bitch…." he sighed.
"That's the spirit! Now, I'm gonna take my new toy, and be on my merry way!" For the final time, Hades turned away from Harry Potter and to the still-immobilized Lord Voldemort. With a wave of his hand, the God of the Underworld vanished the stones that encased the Dark Lord, replacing them with heavy chains that glowed with an eerie black radiance. One of those chains stretched from the collar around Voldemort's neck to Hade's hand. "Oh, Tommy, we're going to have such fun!" The pair began to slowly fade from view as Hades continued. "First we're gonna have to put you back together again, and man! That's so gonna huuuurt! Then, after a few hundred years soaking in the River of Souls, I'm thinking data entry. We're getting a new system, and we've got about six eons worth of old files that're gonna have to be entered by hand. Who knows? Work hard; keep your nose clean, a few thousand years, you might even move up to lower middle management! Think about it, Tom! Your own private cube that you don't have to share! Something to look forward to…."
And then, Harry Potter was alone with his llama. "I'm just going to shut my eyes for one minute, okay, Sweetie?" he murmured. "Then, we'll get Hedwig, go find some carrots and…."
Harry Potter, the Boy Who Triumphed, crumpled to the ground, out cold.
The viewing stands exploded. Well, not literally, but you get the idea.
People were jumping up and down, screaming, yelling, hugging all and sundry, cursing, sobbing, slapping backs and generally getting candy floss, popcorn, cheese sauce, nacho bits, mustard and fragments of caramel apples everywhere…and nobody seemed to care. Protected by the strongest wards the ICW could erect, the sounds of the duel brought to them by modified Quidditch-stadium spells; they'd heard every word. Those with omnioculars (most of them) had seen it all, as well.
In the Death Eater stands, there was a general rush for the apparition points. A few robes went down and were trampled, but most of the DEs saw a brief window of opportunity to get out while the getting was good. Most of them were able to vanish to parts unknown before the Aurors and policia arrived on that side of the field. The rest just lay there and moaned until medical attention arrived. They found themselves portkeyed into a secure facility somewhere outside of Sheffield, where teams from St. Mungo's and other wizarding hospitals were standing by. As per the protocol that had been set up when the facility was created the week before, each was tested for the Imperius and the small number of potions that mimicked the Imperio effect before any other treatment was given.
None tested positive. This would later be used as evidence in their trials.
The press, most of whom hadn't been able to get decent seats, rushed onto the field the instant the protective wards collapsed. From the stands, Sirius tugged Remus' arm and pointed at the field. "We've got to get out there!" he cried, and immediately began pushing his way through the celebrating crowd to the exit. Remus looked where Sirius had pointed, paled, and followed him, elbows flying.
Harry Potter lay on the ground, not moving. Standing between his body and the onrushing wave of press was an enraged battle llama, teeth barred and hissing angrily. On Sweetie's head, the mighty Hedwig spread her wings and screeched a battle cry. From the direction of Harry's tent, Poppy Pomphrey charged across the field, skirts in hand, slapping away Phil's attempts to restrain her as she ran.
Remus paused at the top of the stairs leading out of the viewing stands, took another look at the field, and groaned. It was like watching two trains speeding towards another on the same track. There was no doubt that a horrible tragedy was about to occur, but it was so terribly fascinating that he couldn't look away.
And then, she was there. Mary Poppins appeared out of nowhere in front of Sweetie, a carrot in her hand. Remus couldn't hear what she was saying—the audio spells had been tied into the protection wards—but the llama took the carrot and trotted over to stand over her master, Hedwig still perched on her head. Then, Mary Poppins turned and looked at the onrushing torrent of bodies…and the torrent stopped as the front rank froze in place.
"That will be quite enough of that!" she snapped, loud enough for Remus to hear. "Now, off with you! Shoo! Shoo!" She flung her hands out once, twice, and the crowd began backing away.
Poppy bustled up and knelt beside Harry's body, wand already in motion.
"Is he…." the satyr asked, standing right behind her and wringing his hands nervously.
"He's alive, and needs several doses of post-Cruciatus potion immediately," the redoubtable mediwitch was already pulling said potions from somewhere in her apron. "Other than that, he's suffering from fatigue, dehydration and magical exhaustion." She paused, then grinned up at the anxious Philoctetes. "He'll be right as rain in a few days," she said.
Mary Poppins looked back over her shoulder and smiled, while the satyr yelled and danced in relief.
Of course, that was the end of it, but not really. Poppy, guarded by Philoctetes, Mary Poppins, Sweetie, Hedwig, Sirius, Remus, Alvaro Alvarez and a mixed squad of Aurors and ICW policia levitated Harry back to his tent, where Cruella DeVille had taken charge and was barking orders like the Captain of Industry she was, pointing with her cigarette holder for emphasis.
"Ursula, Maleficent, door guards. Mim, Maurice, Endora, Jafar, perimeter. Nothing in, nothing out. Genie, you're on combat air patrol. No eviscerating without good reason, but I mean nothing in, nothing out! Go!" And they went, without a word of argument.
Nodding to the Mistress of the House of DeVille, the Supreme Mugwump deployed his forces around the tent around a larger perimeter. Oddly enough, the Aurors and policia were challenged frequently that afternoon and into the night, but no one entered the tent without Mary Poppins', Cruella DeVille's or Poppy Pomphrey's say-so.
Some of the more adventurous well-wishers had to be treated for llama bites or talon injuries, but nobody much gave a fig. Dumbledore and Scrimgeour were among this group.
Harry woke late that evening, said a few words to his friends, squeezed Oliver's hand, swallowed a rack full of awful-tasting potions, and went back to sleep. During the night, Poppy felt that he was stable enough to travel by portkey, and he was moved back to Grimmauld Place without waking.
Three days later, Harry Potter's solicitor released a statement to the effect that Lord Potter had nothing more to say about the Dark Lord Voldemort, aka Tom Marvelo Riddle, except that the half-blood git was gone for good. Any of his remaining followers could apply to have their Dark Marks removed by Lord Potter either through their local Ministry or ICW office. There was an extensive interview process, involving Veritiserum and Legillimency, that the former Death Eaters would have to undergo—the results of which could be used against them in legal proceedings—as well as a sizable application fee, with another charge for the actual removal. All fees would be donated to the Lily Potter Fund for Magical Orphans, which had only just been established with 'generous' endowments from Lords Potter and Black.
The Ministry and ICW considered then rejected the idea of a general amnesty for the Marked. Nonetheless, several dozen Death Eaters came forth, paid up, were screened (most of them had been forced to take the Mark to protect their families, and were granted clemency) and had the Marks removed.
The ICW, realizing that some of the less guilty could not afford the fees, established a fund for those who could demonstrate real need. Another few dozen availed themselves of this fund, and all of them were subsequently granted clemency, as well.
One month later, when no more Death Eaters had come forward for two full weeks, Harry, Lord Potter filed papers with the Goblins, the Gnomes of Zurich, and every other wizarding bank known to the ICW. Lord Potter claimed, under an old statute that granted him ownership by right of conquest, all properties (including 'branded servants') of the former Tom Riddle. It took a grand total of three days for the last bank to approve his claim. Suddenly, a number of European wizards (and a few from hither, yon and elsewhere) found themselves knutless, homeless, and generally worthless.
The Lily Potter Fund became a Foundation, and opened offices in its new buildings all across Europe.
A few days later, Harry Potter was seen for the first time since The Duel, at the Puddlemere United/Falmouth Falcons game. In a squeaker, Puddlemere won, 400-370, with Oliver Wood's catch of the snitch ending the game after three hours of furious play.
After his victory lap, Oliver flew up to Harry's box, presented him with the game snitch, shook Harry's hand (the photo made the front page of the Prophet and the Quibbler, the first time such a thing had ever occurred), and flew off. Lord Potter departed shortly thereafter without speaking to the press.
That summer, well before the solstice, Harry snuck away to Greece, a case of Ogden's Best in his pocket, and disappeared. He reappeared three days later, a bit pale from lack of sunshine but otherwise hale, hearty, scruffy, unshaven and in good spirits. He later told his close friends and family that he'd spent the time lolling around with Hades and Death, drinking, belching, scratching, farting and telling bad jokes to one another. Death was worried about his Hallows, and just wanted Harry to keep them safe…and not to use them to wreck the fabric of the Universe, or anything foolish like that. Harry promised to do just that, as they really did need looking after, and he'd become rather fond of the Universe, thank you. Hades, having brought the two together for a successful meet & greet, was totally insufferable for all of two weeks…until Persephone, Mrs. Hades, smacked him over the head with an empty box of chocolates Harry brought her.
And as for the rest, well…. You pretty much know it already. Dumbledore managed to avoid Azkaban, but only just. He was booted out of Hogwarts, and died shortly thereafter, having refused to have his arm amputated. Minerva McGonagall assumed the position of Headmistress, and completely revamped the curriculum. She served with distinction for another five years, before tendering her own retirement. She spent her remaining years writing several books on transfiguration, gardening, and generally enjoying life.
Minister Scrimgeour tried on several occasions to convince Lord Potter to publically support his administration. He failed.
Harry was summoned to a private meeting in Buckingham Palace, and came away with a sash and a new title. Winky was overjoyed that he now really was Master Harry Potter Sir.
At the end of May, Harry and Mary Poppins were alone in the drawing room at Number 12, Grimmauld Place taking their afternoon tea when the Headmistress abruptly stiffened and looked out the window.
In a flash, Harry was on his feet, Elder Wand in hand, scanning for threats.
"Calmly, Mr. Potter," Mary Poppins said quietly.
"What is it?" Harry barked, still scanning the room.
"The wind's changed, Harry."
"Wha…? What's the bloody wind got to…?" Harry stopped, then slowly returned to his seat. "Oh."
"Indeed." Mary Poppins finished her cup, returning it to the saucer with precise movements.
"So, this is it, then," Harry whispered, disappointment and panic warring with each other on his face.
"Yes," Mary Poppins answered simply. "I must be going."
"I…I don't want you to go," Harry muttered, leaning back. "I'm the Master of Death. I can make you stay."
"Harry," Mary Poppins chided gently. "I'm needed elsewhere."
"I could come with you." Hope and mulish determination sounded in his voice.
Mary Poppins laughed gaily. "Really now, Harry! The Scourge of Dark Lords, changing nappies? Wiping noses and kissing scraped knees? I think not. Besides, I suspect that before too long, you'll have your own brood to look after."
"I'll need you more than ever, then," Harry groused.
"And when you truly need me, I shall return," Mary Poppins said primly. "But that time is not now."
"Do you have to go right away?" Harry asked, hating the desperation he heard in his voice.
"I'm afraid so, yes." Standing, she smoothed her dress and strode to the door, Harry following behind.
Winky was waiting in the entryway with Mary Poppins' carpetbag. "Winky is packing your bag, and putting in a bag of sandwiches and scones," the little elf said, her eyes bright.
"Thank you, Winky. Now I won't have to worry about supper," Mary Poppins smiled. She donned her coat and hat, then turned to Harry. Putting her hand on his cheek, she smiled at him warmly. "Take care of yourself, Harry Potter. I will see you again."
Harry's eyes were wet with unshed tears. "You'll owl me if you need me?" he asked insistently.
"Of course," Mary Poppins nodded, and then straightened, all business. Pulling on her gloves, she retrieved her parrot-head umbrella from the troll-leg stand, picked up her carpetbag, and strode through the open door onto the landing. Once there, she looked around at the empty street before opening her umbrella and holding it aloft. The breeze swirled around her, and she was lifted up, up and over the rooftops of Grimmauld Place.
Harry and Winky stood on the landing, safe behind the notice-me-not charms on the house, watching her until she was out of sight.
"Is Master Harry Potter Sir being all right?" Winky asked carefully, after a moment.
Harry Potter looked down and smiled at his friend. "Yes, Winky, I think I am," he said. Nodding, Winky popped away, leaving Harry alone on the steps. "Yes, I think I am," he repeated to himself, before going back inside.
And yes, he really was.
A/N: I never really intended to write this, but…well, here it is. It was never supposed to be this long, but it is. It doesn't exactly follow the 'ending' of the previous story, but you knew that already. It is what it is.
Nope, there's no prizes for spotting all the characters. I'm not sure that I could spot all of them, because after 14 hours at the keyboard, I get a little crazy. One Shout Out to James Woods, whose version of Hades-the Lord of the Underworld as Used Car Salesman-inspired most of this fic. That's not to say the others aren't great, but...well, Hades got the screen time this go 'round.
A 'Q' type question is a type of multiple choice where you are given answers 1, 2, 3 and 4…and are told to select 'A' if 1 and 3 are true, 'B' if 2 and 4 are true, 'C' if 1, 2, and 3 are true, and 'D' if only 4 is true, and 'E' if all/none of the above are true. They are also known as 'board'-type questions (as they are a favorite of medical board exams), and are the most EVIL, HORRIBLE form of multiple-choice questions known to man. A few moments reflection will allow you to see just why that is the case. I thank the Lord above (probably not enough) that I'll never, EVER have to take a test with those nasty things again!
A 'cria' is the proper name for a baby llama. That's your new word for the day. Cosmesis is your word for tomorrow. Look it up.
Paracetamol is the generic name in Great Britain for acetaminophen. Or Tylenol , if you prefer.
The Potter crest (created by me just for this fic) is "sanguine a hippogriff rampant argent charged with crossed wands sable". In other words, a silver hippogriff on a blood-red field, with black crossed wands superimposed on the 'griff. I think. A genius at heraldry, I ain't.
You may have noticed some characters from my other fics. Yes, I do steal from myself. I feel that it gives my work a kind of transcendent unity that other, lesser authors never achieve. That sounds better than 'I'm just a lazy bum', doesn't it?
Yes, there are discrepancies between this story and Chapter 4 of Harry Potter and the Alternative Tournament. Didn't you read the note at the beginning? Ah, spit, I'm still gonna get flames...
One final thing: just how did Mary Poppins convince all of those people (and other beings) to help train Harry? Well, she's Mary Poppins. Also, think about it: depending on your perspective, Voldemort is either a Really Bad Idea, a Threat to you and yours, or The Competition. He's big, he's bad, he's practically immortal…and this scrawny kid is the only one who can take him down. About the only power the kid has is the Puppy Dog Eyes of Doom—which he uses frequently. Plus, he's just so darned likable, loyal to a fault, always willing to see the best in people and no threat to anybody unless they really, truly piss him off. So, why not help him out? Voldie's got to go, and Harry needs all the help he can get. Do the math.