Most observers would not have noticed anything amiss about the street on which Harry Potter lived. Certainly, they would have found the sight of a petite blonde sitting in an Adirondack chair just outside the gates a bit odd. Most people would sit in their backyards after all, not on the sidewalk outside the gates. However, most casual observers would not have been able to see her as she had taken the precaution of laying in a few notice-me-not charms around her.
The reason she was sitting outside the gates and not in her own backyard was rather simple. She had some experiments to perform, experiments that required her to be outside the wards protecting the house that she shared with Harry Potter.
She picked up a block of a putty like substance and carefully pinched of a portion of it. She rolled it in-between her palms into a rough ball before placing it in front of her. She then pulled out a highly polished stick. Unlike Harry, and especially when it came to delicate work, she still sometimes preferred to use her old school wand, one of the traditional types, a wand that looked like a wand. She waved it at the ball she had just created and it morphed and transformed into a little humming bird.
The bird sprang up into the air and hovered in front of Luna, its wings just a blur as they beat incredibly fast. Luna waved her wand at the bird again and the little creature obeyed and sped towards her house. Just as it flew over the gate it seemed to strike an invisible barrier. There was a bright flash that left an afterimage on Luna's eyes and then there was a tiny little shower of burnt and smoking feathers, powdered bones and ash floating in the breeze.
Luna's face twisted into a little moue of distaste. "Bugger," she cried in an emphatic tone.
Yet another failure, she thought, even as her hand reached down to the block and pinched of another piece of the putty like substance. Perhaps... something smaller, she thought.
Albus Dumbledore mentally checked off the horcruxes he had collected so far. The Hufflepuff cup had been easy enough. All it had taken was for him to put Bellatrix Lestrange under the Imperius curse and have her give him her vault key and sign a letter giving him access to the vault. The goblins had not even made the slightest of protests.
The locket had also been remarkable easy, after the unpleasantness of the cave, that is. Once he had found the fake in the cave with the letter signed by Regulus all he had to do was have Sirius give him access to Grimmauld Place. Black had refused to come back to Britain but he had at least sent an owl to Kreacher telling him to let Dumbledore into Grimmauld Place where he could question the elf at leisure.
Kreacher had been a bit reluctant but eventually the elf had talked and talked. The poor, well, creature, and really something really should be done about these ridiculous elf names, or at least the ones that were horrible puns, but anyway, the poor cre... no poor fellow, the poor fellow had eventually been overjoyed to be able to carry out Regulus's last order to have the locket destroyed.
He also marvelled at Voldemort's arrogance. Had he really thought that The Grey Lady would never talk? Especially to a headmaster of Hogwarts? Even though Hogwarts no longer operated as a school, the fact that he was the headmaster still held some sway with the ghosts. Had Voldemort really thought that hiding a horcrux inside the walls of Hogwarts was a good idea? Sometimes he really wondered about Tom. The boy's sanity was long lost of course but he really would have credited him with more sense than hiding the diadem within Hogwarts.
Now all that was left was the Gaunt Ring, Nagini and... Well, he would cross that last bridge when he came to it. The boy still had to face Voldemort first and he still had hopes that he could somehow ensure that the boy survived. But in any case, that was all in the future. For now the Gaunt Ring awaited him at the Gaunt shack.
Once he had his hands on the complete set he could use the Sword of Gryffindor to destroy them. He had not done that yet as he was worried that Voldemort might be able to feel or somehow sense the destruction of his horcruxes. That would not do at all.
Luna sat at the kitchen table staring intently at a weighing scale in front of her. She was also holding a stopwatch in her hands. Harry came stalking into the kitchen and Luna calmly moved a cereal box in front of the weighing scale to block his view of it.
"You're back then," she said. "Any progress? What were you trying this time then?"
"There was a theoretical weapon system I read about called Thor. Basically it involved putting large metal rods in orbit and then having them crash down on your target. Because of the high speed they supposedly would have the equivalent impact of several tons of dynamite," said Harry as he collapsed into a chair. He was absolutely exhausted.
"Into orbit? But how would you get something up that high?" asked an astonished Luna.
"I thought a portkey might be able to get a large rock up high enough," said Harry.
"Hmmm, no that wouldn't work," said Luna. "The portkey spell is only designed to transport people on the surface of the earth."
"Yeah, I know, but you know as well as I do that spells can be modified, if you know what you're doing," said Harry.
"It can be quite dangerous though," said Luna, thinking sadly about her mother.
"I'm nothing but careful," said Harry, "and you know, sometimes you have to take a few risks. Wasn't that hard really, I mean the spell already allows for transport to a different height. Portkeying from a mountaintop to the beach still places you on the beach, not at the height of the mountain. Conceptually it's pretty much the same as creating a portkey to the top of a mountain, only in this case the mountain doesn't exist. All you really have to do is remove the bit of the spell that makes the portkey transport to ground level and bob's your uncle."
"So... what happened?" asked Luna.
"Took a fair bit of time actually but I eventually managed to modify the portkey spell to take something up high enough. Not into orbit, unfortunately, but high enough that a one ton rock coming down from that height would do more than enough damage. The bomb wards might still deflect it, but if you land it just outside the wards, in just the right spot then theoretically the resulting explosion would be deep enough that it would take out the warded building from underneath. Bomb wards are designed to protect you from aerial bombardment so it might have worked. Unfortunately..."
"Yes," asked Luna gently.
"The damn things are impossible to aim accurately. You know that spinning feeling you get with portkeys. When the rocks were reaching the target they came spinning out in unpredictable directions. Damn things were landing all over the place. Not one managed to land on target," said Harry sadly.
"Hmm, the muggles have something called bomb-sights don't they?" asked Luna.
"Yeah, they've been around since... I don't know, at least World War II but to use one of them, I'd have to portkey up with the rock, then somehow keep it levitated up in the air while I move it into position and... Basically it's not a workable solution."
"I don't know, a featherweight and a shrinking charm might let you just fly it up on a broomstick and then once you've figured out the right spot you reverse the spells and..."
"I'd have to be on a broomstick flying right above Voldemort's headquarters... No, that's a bit too dangerous, even for a former Gryffindor like me. Like I said sometimes you have to take risks but flying right over Voldemort's head. Nope, that's not one I'm prepared to take," said Harry.
"Well, I might have another solution for you. It occurred to me, when you were fooling around with that gun of yours, that a simpler solution would just be to transfigure your explosives into a bird or a flock of birds and have them fly over to Voldemort's house. Then, once they're there the transfiguration would be set to reverse and..."
"Wouldn't work," interrupted Harry. "It's very easy to set up a ward that prevents transfigured animals and objects from crossing. Since Dumbledore is known to be a master of transfiguration, there's no way Voldemort wouldn't have that on his house."
Luna grinned widely - "And of course, we have something similar protecting our house," she stated.
"Yes, of course. It's not like I'd forget a basic ward like that," said Harry.
"Well, I hate to break it to you but I think I found a weakness in your wards then," she said as she moved the Cereal box and waved her hands in front of the weighing scale as if she was presenting a prize on a game show - "Ta-da!" she cried triumphantly.
Harry blinked at the weighing scale. It had a large misshapen blob of a familiar looking substance resting on it.
"Is that... that's the explosive I was using to fill my shells. Why are you weighing it?" he asked in confusion.
"Keep a close eye on the reading on the scale," said Luna.
"I... I don't see what I'm supposed to be looking at... did it just increase? It did. How... How on earth?" asked Harry, as he watched the needle on the weighing scale's dial sweep upwards. It was very slow, but steady. The weight of the explosive was increasing.
Luna handed him a pair of sunglasses. "I've charmed these so that you can see them," she said.
"See what?" asked Harry even as he put on the sunglasses. "What... oh... What are those?" he asked in wonder.
He could see them clearly through the sunglasses. A steady stream of bright dots, tiny, almost infinitesimally small. They were flowing through the air, drifting steadily in a constant stream. The tiny dots would land on the blob of explosive and disappear, somehow joining with it and adding to its mass.
He got up and followed the stream of bright particles. They were flowing in through the window. He opened the door and walked around the house until he caught sight of them again and followed them to where they were coming from. To his utter shock and stupefaction they were coming from outside his property, flowing right through his wards as if they didn't exist.
He turned to Luna, his mouth wide open in astonishment.
"Those are wrackspurts," said Luna with an air of satisfaction. "I transfigured your explosive into a... hmmm what is the collective noun for them, I wonder? A flock? A gaggle? Maybe a murder, like crows. Let's just call them a bunch. Yes, I transfigured about a pound of your explosive into a bunch of wrackspurts and set them loose about a mile away. I also had to make them think that there was a big juicy brain here on the weighing scale. It's taken them just under an hour to get here and at the rate they're coming in I'd say they should all finish getting here in about... oh say another 5 to 10 minutes."
"Wrack... but... but... Uh... Luna, you know as well as I do that... uh, how do I put this exactly... They don't bloody exist, for one," he exploded, his mind reeling with the fact that there was a weakness in his wards.
Luna smiled - "You remember our transfiguration classes. What was the first inanimate to animate transfiguration we learned?"
"Buttons into beetles, but..."
"Suppose, just suppose for a second, that beetles suddenly went extinct. There are now no more beetles on the face of the earth. Would that stop you from being able to transfigure a button into a beetle?" asked Luna.
"Well, no. But that's only because I know what a beetle is supposed to look like and how it behaves and..." Harry trailed off as he realised what Luna was getting at.
"And... I know all there is to know about wrackspurts," said Luna.
Harry rushed back into the house and pulled out his ward monitors. "Damn it," he cried. "They're not registering at all on the transfigured animals ward, oh of course there's a size limitation for the ward to trigger and the amount of magic on an single wrackspurt isn't enough to trigger it... but... and not even on the hazardous materials ward which makes sense as they wouldn't pick up a transfiguration and... Crap, not even the anti-bacterial ward, that should have kept them out... but then they're not bacteria or viruses and... Bloody hell! I'm going to have to redo all of those defences."
Luna entered calmly and serenely - "But does it solve your Voldemort problem?" she asked.
"Oh yes, I think it bloody well should," said Harry. "You'd need a detonator as well, and a way to target someplace inside his house where they wouldn't be noticed as they revert back, of course, someplace like the basement or the gaps between the walls or underneath the floorboards... but I think... yes, you've bloody well done it Luna. We have a way of blowing up Voldemort from miles away. Yes, yes, yes..." shouted Harry in glee before picking Luna up and twirling her around the room.
Dumbledore stood in front of the Gaunt Shack, his wand held aloft in front of him. A muggle observer might have thought that the old man was trying to conduct an invisible orchestra from the way that Dumbledore's wand was moving rapidly in front of him.
In fact Dumbledore was busy analysing the protections around the Gaunt Shack. There weren't that many to his surprise. Much as he had found at the Cave, Voldemort's defences tended rather towards the crude and unrefined. At least there were no inferi here he thought as he lazily flung out a cutting curse to decapitate yet another snake that was poised to strike at him.
With a final forceful push of his magic he cracked through the last ward. Now all that was left to do was to find the ring. Well, truth be told he had no idea whether it was in fact a ring. Voldemort could easily have used another object, but from whatever he knew of the boy he expected that Voldemort would have made a horcrux out of the ring and hidden it here. Here, at what could have been his ancestral home had his mother not run away to ensnare a muggle.
Still, it would not do to take chances, he thought. Which is why, he had had the foresight to bring an imperiused Peter Pettigrew along with him. He turned to the rat like man now and ordered him into the shack to search for the ring. Just in case there was a trap he had missed it would be far better for the traitorous animagus to trigger it.
He was positively bursting with impatience as he waited for Pettigrew to finish searching the shack. He spent the time casually laying in a few defences of his own. It would not do to get ambushed. Not now, not when he was so close to his goal.
That was when the screaming started. Pettigrew was screaming. The man had to have triggered one of the protections. Dumbledore strode into the shack and quickly found Pettigrew. The man had foolishly put on the ring on his metal hand and the silver was turning black and bubbling around the ring. The metal seemed to be writhing before Dumbledore's eyes. Droplets of molten silver were dripping of Pettigrew's hand and the man was convulsing on the floor.
Dumbledore quickly silenced Pettigrew. The screaming was rather getting on his nerves after all. He bent and looked at the ring. It would not do to touch it but he needed to get it off Pettigrew or there was no telling what it would do to the man. He fired off a quick cutting curse but whatever enchantments were still active upon the metal hand deflected the curse. Dumbledore sighed. Luckily he had the foresight to bring the Sword of Gryffindor with him. He quickly pulled it out from within his robes and swung it at Pettigrew's hand, intending to sever the hand off at the wrist.
Unfortunately, there was obviously still some degree of self-preservation within Pettigrew's mind. Or perhaps the hand was trying to protect itself. In any case Pettigrew moved his hand and tried to ward off the blow. This brought the ring perfectly into position such that when the sword fell it sheared right through the ring, cleaving it precisely in two.
Dumbledore stared in dismay at the shattered halves of the ring. The stone was oddly still intact and it was... Dumbledore conjured up a thick cloth and carefully picked up the stone with it. He would have to study it later. For now, he had to get out of there and back to Hogwarts. He pulled Pettigrew along with him and hurried out the door.
He yanked upon the door of the shack and had to immediately duck to avoid the blasting curse that would have otherwise taken his head off. Oh dear, it looked like Voldemort had felt the destruction of one of his horcruxes after all. There were several shadowy figures outside the shack firing curses at it. He quickly ducked back inside the shack and sealed the door while he considered his options.
He wondered whether he should just call Fawkes or... perhaps he should use this opportunity to capture a few more Death Eaters. The picking had been rather slim as of late. He took a quick peek out the window and he saw a large snake slither by. That had to be Nagini, he realised. Voldemort had sent his snake along with his men. That clinched it. All he had to do was get one lucky curse off at the snake then he could happily head back to Hogwarts. He steeled himself for what was to come. This was not a fight in which he could afford to pull any punches. There would be no stunning or capturing Death Eaters in this fight. No, the snake had to die and he was willing to do whatever it took to make sure that happened.
He forced Pettigrew back into his animagus form, stunned him and shoved him into a pocket. It would not do for the man to get in the way. In his haste the Headmaster failed to notice that the curse was still traveling up Pettigrew's arm. He cast a blasting curse which took out the side of the shack opposite to the door.
Dumbledore strode out of the newly created hole in the side of the now almost completely demolished shack. He knelt and shoved his wand into the ground. Instantly a horde of animals erupted out of the ground all around him. Surrounding him in a defensive ring were dozens of lions, tigers and wolves. "Time to hunt boys!" he cried out and they were off and running. Dumbledore ran after them, his wand firing curses left and right.
Vincent Crabbe was absolutely terrified. He had been ordered to accompany the Dark Lord on his mission along with a few other Death Eaters. Ordinarily, this would have been considered a great honour but due to the fact that the only reason he had been chosen was that there was hardly anyone left... People had been disappearing for weeks and no one knew who was behind it. People had been whispering that the mythical Boy-Who-Lived had returned to finish off all of them. At the time Vincent had scoffed. Everyone knew that the Boy-Who-Lived was a myth. But now there was hardly anyone left and so, yes really not so great an honour anymore.
Still, he had not been too worried. The Dark Lord was with them. Who could stand up to him?
They had portkeyed over to some crappy old hovel, nestled in the trees somewhere and that was when it all went to hell. Suddenly, they were being attacked by all sorts of beasts. Two of the death eaters with him had their throats ripped out by wolves and he was certain he had seen a great black bear disemboweling another.
That was when he turned and ran. He ran like he had never run before. He stopped after a few moments, too winded to continue and risked a look back behind him. He couldn't make out much through the woods surrounding the shack but then he didn't have to. The night was lit by the flashes of curses flying every which way. Great gouts of fiendfyre were shooting up into the air which was still filled with the terrifying howls and roars of animals.
He turned to run again when he spotted a flash of gold out of the corner of his eyes. There was a snitch flying swiftly towards him, swooping gracefully through the branches of the trees around him. He shot curses at it but the snitch evaded them effortlessly and flew straight at his face.
He reflexively swung at it to bat it out of the air and was shocked when he felt a sudden sharp pain. His hand had been cut open nearly to the bone. He stared at the snitch which he had managed to knock to the ground. Its wings were odd, he realised, not at all like the snitches he had seen before during quidditch games. This snitch had wingtips that were shaped quite differently. Its tips were like razors, sharp and gleaming.
Even as he cradled his injured hand against himself, he heard a rustling sound and looked up. That was when he saw the rest of them. Dozens and dozens of snitches all swooping towards him.
Seconds later the snitches were upon him. Wings with edges honed to razor sharpness slashed and stabbed, cut upon cut and shredded Vincent Crabbe into bloody ribbons.
Dumbledore was firing off curses at an incredible rate. Whoever his opponent was they were quite good. Almost at the level of Voldemort himself, he thought. He parried a few curses with his wand, conjuring solid shields out of thin air to block another couple of unforgivable curses and swung a flame whip to drive them back.
He wondered, yet again, who his opponent was; he had yet to get a proper glimpse of them. It was not Voldemort as he knew that Voldemort was terribly prone to gloating during a fight. The man could barely fire of a single curse without prefacing it with a long monologue about how he was going to destroy his opponent. A senior Death Eater then, someone he had missed. Quite lucky as he would have had to run if it had been Voldemort since only Harry could defeat him.
A cutting curse clipped Dumbledore in the side. He hissed in pain even as he launched a counterattack. He was a bit too slow though as his opponent managed to sneak in a blasting curse through his shields.
Dumbledore spotted the incoming curse and got up a shield at the very last second. This managed to save his life though the force of the explosion still sent the old man tumbling head over heels.
He landed face down in the dirt and some instinct made him roll to the side just as Nagini struck where he had been lying an instant before. He struck back quickly and neatly, a drilling charm bored a hole right through Nagini's head. A smoky mist rising from the body let him know that he had managed to destroy yet another Horcrux.
There was an incoherent yell of rage and he saw his opponent rushing towards him firing curses wildly. The man had clearly lost his head to the heat of the battle and Dumbledore wasted no time in taking advantage.
A flurry of curses left his wand, punching ragged bloody holes wherever they landed. The man was literally torn in half by the ferocious onslaught of Dumbledore's spells.
Dumbledore straightened up slowly with a grimace upon his face. He was absolutely covered in tiny wounds, None life threatening on their own but added up... That man had been really good, he thought. He had not been in such a fierce fight in decades. It was such a pity that the man had not given him the opportunity to take him alive. Someone so skilled could have been useful in some way. Pity, really.
Dumbledore was feeling lightheaded from blood loss and he felt that it was time to go home. Time to call Fawkes and head back to Hogwarts and let them patch him up.
Still, he should at least see who it was that he had just killed. He walked over to the freshly made corpse and with a wave of his wand turned it over. The face was a bloody mess but the strange snake-like features of Voldemort were still quite unmistakable. How? How on earth had he managed to defeat Voldemort? This... This should not have been possible, thought Dumbledore. What of the prophecy? What about Harry? How... Perhaps the prophecy had not been a valid one after all.
Dumbledore staggered as he nearly fell over. The effects of the fight were getting to him and he was fading fast. He took a good grip of Voldemort's robes before calling for Fawkes to transport them back to Hogwarts.
Harry was sitting and enjoying the day's first cup of coffee when Sirius Black rushed into the room. He was followed by Luna, who had obviously let him in, and his arms were filled with bottles and bottles of alcohol.
"Why aren't you celebrating?" he cried as he started putting the bottles down on the kitchen table.
Harry looked at Sirius in confusion - "Celebrate what?" he asked.
"Merlin's beard! Haven't you heard? I took a portkey here almost as soon as I did. Dumbledore defeated Voldemort last night. Old snake face is dead. He's deader than a doornail. He's pushing up daisies. He's kicked the bucket. He took a long walk off a short pier. He's sleeping with the fishes,rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible, he's a stiff, an ex-Dark Lord; he got his ticket punched and is in Tartarus helping Sisyphus push that boulder up the mountain. He's..."
"I think I got the picture, thanks," said a dazed Harry, in no small amount of shock from the news.
"Well, what are you waiting for? Come on? Start drinking? We have a party to get to tonight and we want to be pleasantly drunk before we get there?" said Sirius.
"Yep, rented out the Pink Pussycat for the night and I've invited every expat in South America. And you know what they say - It's not a party unless it's a Sirius Party!"
"It's like nine in the morning and... Wait... Wait... What about the..."
"You know... the prophecy... the one that Dumbledore was going on about... I thought... Oh, Bugger it for a game of soldiers. I guess my first reaction was right. The prophecy was a bunch of hokum after all," said Harry.
"Actually," said a thoughtful Luna, "maybe, maybe not."
"How so?" asked Harry.
"The prophecy said - either must die by the hand of the other. It didn't say hands. Why hand and not hands? I mean - wouldn't hands be the more common usage? I made the pie with my own two hands. I strangled the man with my bare hands. Etc. Etc." said Luna.
"I don't know, there's handmade of course and uh... I think they're pretty much interchangeable. What does it matter anyway?" asked Harry.
"Well, when it comes to prophecies every letter can be significant. I think the fact that the prophecy says hand instead of hands when hands could have been used just as easily is quite significant. Let me explain - say you're running a business and say Sirius here is your assistant and he does a lot of your work. He's massively useful and..."
"Why, thank you Luna," interrupted Sirius.
"And," continued Luna, ignoring the interruption, "you're introducing him to someone and you want to impress upon them how important he is to you and your business. How would you introduce him?"
"Uh... Meet Sirius Black, my assistant," said Harry in a quizzical tone.
Luna gave Harry one of those looks. Really, she thought, did she have to spell everything out? That's what she got for shacking up with a Gryffindor and not a Ravenclaw.
"Come on, wouldn't you say something like - Meet Sirius Black, he's my Right Hand..."
"Right Hand man! Yes, of course, you would use hand rather than hands in that context but…" said Harry.
"What if getting rid of Voldemort was your job? In that case when you ordered Dumbledore to start taking care of the Death Eaters he was basically working for you. You had delegated the job to him, which would make him your right hand man. Wouldn't it?" asked Luna.
"Uhhh, that's stretching it a bit, isn't it?" asked Harry.
"That's prophecy for you," answered Luna. "They never come true in quite the way you'd expect."
"But...But... What about the bit about the power the Dark Lord has not and all that..." asked Harry.
"Hmm, I think that's obvious isn't it? Come on Harry, think back to those memories. Dumbledore was always suspicious of Voldemort, right from the day he met him in the orphanage. Tom Riddle couldn't persuade Dumbledore to hand him a biscuit and you managed to persuade Dumbledore to wage war singlehandedly," said Luna.
"So the power that the dark lord knows not was just the ability to convince Dumbledore to get off his butt and do something?" asked Harry in astonishment. "I think I'm going to need that drink after all."
Dumbledore was in his office at Hogwarts. In front of him were the remains of Voldemort's horcruxes. He had destroyed them all with the help of Gryffindor's sword. Now all that was left was...
The fireplace turned green and Poppy Pomfrey's head appeared in it.
"Yes, Poppy?" he asked.
"You wanted to be informed when it happened, Headmaster. Peter Pettigrew passed away a few moments ago," she said.
"Thank you, Poppy," said the Headmaster sadly. It was a pity about Pettigrew. So unfortunate that Severus had not been around. With the aid of the man's potions they might have been able to do something about the curse but sadly Snape had run away years ago. Dumbledore had heard that the man had travelled to the far-east where unfortunately he had run afoul of the local Potions Guild. The Chinese wizards were quite protective about their little fiefdoms and Snape's acerbic personality would not have helped either. He had rubbed somebody the wrong way and had soon disappeared. They said that the man's head head had been left on a stake in the apartment he had rented. Such a pity, the boy had once held so much promise.
Dumbledore winced as he sat back down behind his desk. He could barely move without parts of his body protesting. He was still recovering from the fight and unfortunately he had barely any time to do so. He was dismayed at what he would have to do but he saw no other way out. It was a terrible act he was contemplating but it had to be done for the greater good.
Despite the apparent death of Voldemort, he could still be resurrected as long as a single horcrux remained. No, Voldemort would have made arrangements. He was certain of that. All it would take was for a single Death Eater to carry out the ritual again and Voldemort would be back.
He had to move fast. He had to get rid of the last Horcrux before Voldemort could be resurrected.
Harry Potter had to die.
A/N: Yes, it does stretch credibility a bit that Dumbledore did not realise that he was fighting Voldemort. What can I say? Sometimes a character just has to pick up the idiot ball.