AN: As before, I own only the storyline, not the characters or settings.
I apologize for the slightly later chapter here. The past month has been quite hectic. I was involved in a car wreck, and while I walked away, my truck was totaled. I also learned a very important lesson. Always Always have full coverage. I had liability, as it was cheaper, but the joke was on me, as I'm now out 5K for a new car, completely without assistance from any insurance company. I will never make that mistake again, that's for damn sure.
While the rest of the Order was out searching the places thought most likely to attract young Harry, Headmaster Dumbledore was walking up the carefully maintained sidewalks of Privet Drive. As he passed each identical manicured lawn, his rather prodigious mind focused not only on his current problem, but his past mistakes. The wards on the Dursley home had completely collapsed, and rapidly decayed beyond the point that one would be hard pressed to find even the slightest evidence of their presence. The failure of the wards had rendered his efforts over the past fourteen years moot. And this realization saddened him greatly.
In addition to his more personal problems, the failure of the wards had another more practical result; he would have to find another location for the boy to stay. The obvious choice would be either Headquarters, with the drawback of exposing Harry to plenty of unsupervised visits with Sirius, or Hogwarts. However; while the castle's wards were top tier, it was neither secret, nor secure; as the Weasley twins proved by continually finding new ways to sneak away. Albus had originally placed baby Harry here both to remove him from the public eye, and to utilize the blood connection shared between Harry, his mother, and his aunt. This provided Harry with some of the best protection available; however it also led to one of the professor's greatest regrets.
Blood wards are an extremely powerful, yet extremely picky set of magics. The strict circumstances in which they could be cast are some of the reasons they remained so obscure. Even Dumbledore, with his decades of study and access to one of the best magical libraries in the world had only ever found a few mentions of them. This obscurity is one of the reasons he chose to take advantage of the sacrifice Lily had made to protect anyone sharing her blood against the one who killed her.
The wards were based on a series of complex spells which used an attack on a family, such as Voldemort killing Lily, to prevent anyone bearing that magical signature from being able to locate anyone who shared the victim's blood. In this way it functioned very much like a primitive Fidelius charm. This effect combined with the fact that every Death Eater was marked with the Dark Lord's own magical signature resulted in the inability of any part of Voldemort's forces ever finding the boy's home. Add to that Dumbledore's own wards preventing common types of dark magic from crossing the property line along with the standard magical travel and intent wards, and Mr. Potter was very well hidden from the magical community.
The biggest weakness however; was that the wards required a magical person sharing the blood of the victim residing within to anchor themselves to a property as opposed to the more common ward stone foundation of standard defenses. This is why the headmaster had had to ensure the boy's return every summer. So as to prevent a potentially dangerous strain on the magical individual, the wards drew their power not from the individual itself, but from the unique interaction between the auras, at least one of which had to be magical, of those sharing a familial link. This fact required that Harry and his aunt spend time in direct interaction.
However, to the Headmaster's shame, he was no fool, he knew the child was far from happy here, and he had seen the troubling signs that pointed to an unpleasant truth about the Dursley home. Despite this, he had had to make the tough call at the cost of the boy's happiness in favor the greater good of the wizarding world. Sadly, Albus' hands were tied in this matter. The headmaster had cast the necessary charms to ensure proper notification which would allow him to intervene should anything life threatening happen, but to maintain the protection of the blood wards; he had to allow the Dursley's their leeway with the boy. With his prophesized fate, the chance that he could be found by the followers of the Dark Lord was not a risk that could be taken.
Albus felt every bit of his one hundred and fifty three years as he approached the front door of Number Four. With Mr. Potter's disappearance, and his apparent dismissal from the Dursley home, the wards had completely disappeared, and with them the slight justification Albus had maintained for his ignorance of Harry's treatment. It was with both a full mind and a heavy heart that he knocked on the front door of the worst sort of muggles.
Several hundred miles away, the being once known as Tom Riddle sat silently in its private study. The self styled Dark Lord was contemplating the results of his resurrection. The ritual had succeeded in returning him to a strong and powerful body of his own. He was no longer forced to rely on the possession of creatures and simple minded men; however his duel with the brat and the unexpected connection of their wands had drained him of what little magic his form had held. Looking back he realized he should not have allowed his anger to get the best of him. He knew it would take time after the ritual to return to his full strength, he should have just killed the boy and been done with it. It seemed that as soon as he was regenerated into this new form, the frustration and humiliation of the past decade had driven him to let slip the careful control he was once known for. Now he was reduced to scraping by with what magic he could spare while his new body replenished his stores. He was stronger with each passing day, but it would still be quite awhile before he returned to his prior strengths.
He was thankful that he had long ago prepared a sanctuary for himself. He supposed that it was as close to home as he had ever had. Voldemort took a moment to admire his surroundings. The exquisite home had seen many inhabitants over its long history, serving as both a nunnery and then a fortress prior to becoming a personal home. Something in its design called to him. He supposed there was a certain similarity in the structure to the grand halls of Hogwarts, the only other place he had truly felt at home. He had rechristened the property 'Serpent's Coil' and it was here that he found refuge when needed.
The stately manor also housed his collection of rare and ancient books and all the magical relics he had gathered while preparing for his rise to power. Few knew of its existence, and fewer still had actually been permitted to visit. A much younger Voldemort had spent the better part of a decade planning and setting the unique wards. They were a mix of the most powerful, obscure, and sinister spells. A range of Persian, Chinese, Hindi, Egyptian, Roman, and half a dozen other defenses. Each and every one interlocked and cast in parseltongue on full moons, solstices, or equinoxes with their anchors inscribed on marble tablets buried around the perimeter. The system as a whole was tied into a nearby ley line, thus drawing power from the magical fields of the earth itself. An intruder would either have to find each tablet in sequence and individually counter each ward with its specific counter spoken in parseltongue, or overpower them directly, something not even a dozen Dumbledores could do quickly.
He had bought the centuries old property at a muggle auction not long after dealing with his paternal ancestors. No one knew that he had imperiused the useless muggles into giving him everything of value they owned before their slow demise. They had begged for death's embrace for hours before he had erased all evidence of his presence and eliminated them with a few quick Killing Curses, laying the blame at his simpleminded uncle's feet. It had taken the bulk of his inheritance from the muggle fools to purchase the estate. It had been a near thing, and the well appointed former abbey had almost gone to some idiotic landmark association. Yet another piece of evidence to show the muggle filth did not deserve splendor such as this. Imagine, such a masterpiece of architecture standing for over seven hundred years to then lie derelict as a dusty museum to some doddering old scientist. Imbeciles! They wouldn't know true brilliance if it poked them in the face.
The Dark Lord then had to take a moment to calm himself. His temper was spiking, and he could already feel the magic he had built up flaring around him. He had noticed that since his rebirth his temper had developed a hair-trigger. He was once a master of calm, even as he committed what some would call atrocities. He was renowned for his mastery of mind magics; but now he couldn't even look around the room without wanting to curse something. 'Just as well only my most trusted lieutenants know of this place' he thought as he begin the long familiar occlumentic exercises 'it wouldn't do to gut my own men.'
In another study at the other side of the expansive mansion, Lucius Malfoy was hard at work on a plan to free his captive brethren from the dark shores of Azkaban. Even just out of Hogwarts, Lucius had been a trusted advisor to his Lord, something which helped him rapidly rise through the ranks to serve as his master's right hand. It had also thankfully separated him from the typical dregs of the Death Eaters. Lucius favored himself more of a white-collar criminal, and believed that he possessed more... sophistication than some of his fellows. He excelled in the planning and political maneuvering as opposed to getting his hands dirty in a duel or the wanton destruction many of his compatriots favored.
Indeed, in the fourteen years of his lord's absence he had utilized every opportunity he could in order to establish a large source of funds for their movement, minus his fair share of course. He had also led the more intelligent of his Death Eater brothers into a strong political force, determined to return the traditional values to the wizarding world. Through a combination of slippery political maneuvering, bribery, blackmail, and charm they had succeeded in laying a groundwork of laws for the advancement of the cause, limiting the rights and privileges of the undesirable elements of society, and attaining strong positions of influence in both the government and the business sectors. With Fudge in office, and the right amount of gold they could achieve practically anything. Of course, Lucius had hoped that when the time came he would be the one to take charge, but he would never let his lord discover that bit of information.
The elder Malfoy did not get to where he was in the world by being a fool. His family had a long history of slipping and sliding their way to the top, and knowing when to get away, preferably after squarely placing the blame somewhere else. It was one of the reasons the Malfoys had fled from France during the revolution. While they may have had a hand in triggering the uprisings, once the fear and panic had set in and heads, muggle and magic alike, began to roll they had fled promptly to the safety of England, along with everything of worth and value they could get their hands on. It was for this reason that Lucius' back-up plans had back-up plans. He had at least seven ways that he could escape, should his lord fail.
It was something he prided himself on, especially with the changes the Dark Lord had undergone in his absence. His lord had once been a persuasive force attracting many wealthy and powerful allies to his cause with an almost seductive grace; promising power, riches, or whatever else his target might desire. He was a magical and tactical powerhouse, leading a relatively small group of comrades on a campaign that had an entire country in fear so great they still whimpered at a whisper of his name. They had all but ruled this land for nearly a decade. His lord could lie, cheat, and outsmart the best of them, conducting a masterpiece of manipulation and promise that would have left even the most silver-tongued politician eating from his hands, but something had twisted inside while he was in hiding.
Since the Dark Lord's resurrection he had been prone to bursts of paranoia, secrecy, anger, and violence. He lashed out without cause or warning, and nearly put that fool Pettigrew in a coma after Potter escaped the graveyard last June. Not to mention his growing obsession with the Boy-Who-Lived. His lord spent hours replaying every detail of his interactions with the boy, and he had apparently convinced himself that he had to destroy the child at all costs. It was left up to Lucius to handle the day to day operations of the reborn Death Eaters. Meanwhile, his master continued to create more and more outlandish and elaborate plans of targeting the Potter brat.
It was almost enough to consider arranging a hostile takeover of sorts, were it not for the loyalty oaths embedded within the dark mark. Even now, it had begun to itch, as if it sensed his mutinous ideas. Shaking off his negative thoughts, Lucius felt the spike of the Dark Lords returning power ripple over the wards of the estate and took a moment to review his escape plans one more time, certain that this could not end well.
Vernon was just sitting down in his well used lounge chair with a healthy portion of his favorite brandy. His only wish was to watch a bit of telly and relax after dinner when he heard the knock at the door. This was followed shortly after by his wife's shuffling footsteps from the kitchen, where she had been finishing up the dishes before joining him. He heard a muffled exchange of words and before he could even think of raising his glass, his resigned looking wife appeared in the doorway to the hall followed by a rather tall elderly man in an outdated suit. Alarm bells went off in Vernon's mind, having come into contact with the way those people dressed when out in public while picking up his nephew from the train station the past few years. The deep inky purple color of the aged suit as well as the extraordinarily long beard and hair of the man practically screamed 'Freak!' in Vernon's mind. He looked almost longingly at his untouched brandy before sitting it aside.
Petunia took her customary seat at the end of the sofa as she introduced the man. "Vernon, this is the Headmaster of the Boy's school. He's here looking for him. I tried to tell him he's gone, but he wouldn't listen.
Vernon, who was not known for his calm demeanor, and already irritated at having his evening interrupted was further incensed when, rather than take a seat like a normal man, this bearded weirdo pulled out his stick and drew a garish puffy scarlet chair, literally from empty air, to sit on. The nerve of these people, didn't they understand how the real world operated? One didn't just barge into someone's home, especially after a hard day's work. And one most certainly did not use that nonsense when it is clear decent upstanding people like himself did not appreciate it! "Now see here, she's told you he's gone, and everyone's happy about that. Suits him and us both to be rid of each other, so what's all this now? I thought we were finally rid of all this... business." His hand gesture clearly meant to indicate the careless use of unwanted magic in his home.
The Dursleys were greeted with Dumbledore's signature twinkle as he responded; oblivious to any discomfort he had caused. "I was made aware of Mr. Potter's disappearance from your home early this morning, and we have all been worried about him. We can't seem to find him, and I was hoping you would perhaps be able to shed some light on what happened to result in his leaving, or perhaps hazard a guess or two as to where he's gone?"
"To right he's gone and we are all thrilled about it! And I don't know, nor do I much care where he ended up. I'm just glad it's anywhere but here. Could be the basin of a volcano for all the bother I'll afford it. What's this about being made aware though? Are you people watching us?" Vernon's ample mustache had begun shift here and there as he blustered about and waved his hand for emphasis.
Despite the truth in Vernon's suspicions, Albus had enough experience not to further agitate the man, although his negligent attitude over Harry's disappearance only furthered to highlight how big of an error Albus had made in deciding to tolerate the deplorable treatment Harry received here. "As you know, from the letter I left when Harry was given to you, his presence here afforded you certain... protections. As the child's other guardian, I had certain devices which reported the status of these protections to me, and when Harry left the property, they recorded the collapse of these protections. For that to occur it means that both yourselves and Mr. Potter had recognized that this residence was no longer his home. From the letter, I trust you understand what the disappearance of these protections mean?"
Petunia, who had more experience and a more tempered attitude when dealing with the magical world, caught the meaning implied by the headmaster. "Are you saying that we are now in danger from those men that killed Lily? Just because the boy is gone now? Surely they wouldn't come after us! I have gone out of my way to eliminate you from my life as much as possible, and I would have succeeded if you hadn't sent that wildman to collect him!"
The worry and fear in her voice soon riled up Vernon as well, "WHAT?!, You listen here, these men better stay away from my family! We want nothing to do with your stupid wars, go and kill each other off all you want, but you leave us normal people out of it!" Vernon was on his feet and well on his way to purple by this point, throbbing vein and all. "Ever since we took that brat in it's been one thing after another. Dealing with his accidental outbursts, and the owls, so many bloody owls! Plus that floating pudding incident! Do you have any idea how much money losing that deal cost me! Not to mention my poor sister! Having her memories wiped. Now these effing Mentoids or what have you, is it any wonder I've thrown the wretch out?"
Albus had spent the better part of the past month facing tribunals and the sharp tongues of the wizarding press in the wake of the Triwizard Tournament. He had been questioned repeatedly and had his sanity called into doubt over his supposed 'fear-mongering' over the return of Voldemort. He'd lost his positions in the Wizengamot and ICW, only barely retaining the Headmastership with the caveat that this coming school year a ministry observer would be sent to ensure his continued performance in that role. On top of that he'd now been faced with the disappearance of the only person able to save them when Tom inevitably struck. Despite his long history of calm and collectedness in the face of war, teenagers, and politics, his patience was really wearing thin.
With an emotionally charged flick of his wrist, both Dursleys were firmly placed into their seats with a calming charm in effect. Any hint of the kindhearted soul known to so many was absent as his cold gaze focused on the couple before him. "To my eternal shame, I'm perfectly well aware of what you've had to deal with in regards to Harry. Of course we've been watching you, do you honestly think I'd leave a child here and not keep tabs on him? I'm well aware of exactly what went on in this household. And I admit that of all the difficult decisions I've had to make in the century plus that I've stood against the darkness, this one stands above the rest. Sadly my hands were tied in order to protect the boy, and I'm sure I'll pay for that in my next adventure. However, those of us with the power to protect the weak also have a responsibility to use it, and for the good of the many I was forced to let you destroy any semblance of normality or affection in that child's life. This is one of the greatest regrets I've collected in my life, but it stops now! You and Harry have evidently parted ways, and when I find him he will most certainly not be returning here. From this point forth you can rest assured that as far as I can control it, you'll never have to worry about the magical world again. I can't promise the same for the dark lord or his men however, so if I were you I'd look into new surroundings."
With this the Headmaster cast the niceties to the wind and scanned first Vernon than Petunia with legilimency. Having observed their conversation with Harry the night before, yet another issue was brought to light as the rogue Dementors were revealed. Unfortunately, no leads were presented as to Mr. Potter's location.
By this point Albus had let slip enough of his control that the lights had begun to flicker and unconsciously released waves of magic were pushing the furniture away from him, while his beard and hair flicked in a nonexistent wind. The Dursleys, remaining under the effects of his calming charm, still managed to look fearful and nervous.
With a burst of fire Fawkes appeared on his shoulder, emitting peaceful waves to calm not only the emotionally taxed headmaster but also the slightly cowering forms of Petunia and Vernon. Within moments the waves of magic dwindled away and an awkward calm settled around the room. Vernon and Petunia were too much in shock at being dressed down like a couple of school children to speak.
Albus had to collect his thoughts. It had been over sixty years since he had last had such an outburst. He quickly centered himself with an occlumentic exercise and attempted to separate the various stresses of his life from the present situation. With a deep breath and wave of his wand, the living room was once more pristine, and he had cast light memory charms on the Dursleys making them forget anything more than a typical conversation and his warnings of the danger they now faced. They were sitting side by side on the couch, albeit with a dazed look about them.
"I'm terribly sorry for an inconvenience my visit has caused, thank you for the information, and once again, I do implore you to relocate for your safety. Good Day." In less than thirty seconds the Dursley's were left alone casting confused glances at each other wondering what exactly had just occurred.
They were also puzzled by what they were going to do with an overly large bright red chair.
Tucked away in an inner office in a building that shouldn't exist, Cornelius Fudge and Dolores Umbridge were planning the fall of Albus Dumbledore. The minister was not a strong willed man by any means, but one did not become the Minister for Magic without having a certain amount of skill. As such, while it was unplanned, he was certainly not going to miss the opportunity presented by Albus' backing of the Potter boy's claims. It was simply preposterous to think that He-who-must-not-be-named would come back. All of his top advisors had repeatedly assured Cornelius that the feared dark lord was gone. And in the past ten years, under Fudge's careful leadership, magical Britain had made leaps and bounds to surpass its former glory. Dear Lucius had even pointed out that it was highly likely the brat was suffering mental delusions, possibly as a result of the attack that gave him his famous scar. His favorite financial backer had also pointed out to Fudge that this was almost certainly an attempt by Dumbledore to discredit the minister in the eyes of the public and remove Cornelius from office to take power for himself, claiming all of Cornelius' hard earned praise as his own by defeating the nonexistent 'second coming' of the dark lord.
So it was under the Minister's executive order, and executive budget, that the Headmaster was faced with an investigation and removed from his Chief Warlock and Supreme Mugwump positions. The campaign in the press, which Cornelius' close friend the editor of the Daily Prophet had orchestrated easily served to sway the public to his side. All that was left was Dumbledore's precious school, and Cornelius would soon have that as well, hence why he had called this meeting with his undersecretary.
For her part, Dolores was just as eager to take down the mighty Dumbledore. For years the old fool had been a thorn in her side concerning her efforts to limit the freedoms afforded to the half-breeds. For some reason he didn't understand that proper wizarding citizens had to be protected from these beasts. The werewolves, the vampires, the goblins, centaurs, mermen, even the giants. Each and every one of them posed a threat to those that truly held the power, and for whatever ungodly reason, Albus Dumbledore continued to champion their cause as 'people'. These foul thieving wretches shouldn't even be allowed to live, much less be thought of as 'people' with actual rights. If she had her way they'd all be slaughtered like the beasts they are.
Given this chance to remove the beasts' hero from grace, Dolores was only oh so happy to be named as the Ministry's representative within Hogwarts this year. It was such a shame the school board had final say over the dismissal of the professors. Every one of them was firmly in Dumbledore's camp, and it had made it impossible for Cornelius to strip him of that position as well. Not to be discouraged, the Minister and his allies had used the poor track record of Defense Against the Dark Arts Instructors to launch an inquiry into the standards of the Hogwarts education and appoint a ministry official to assume the role. Lucius Malfoy and Cornelius' friends in the Wizengamot had also passed through several laws at the last session that permitted such an inquiry to be led by a government appointed representative with the powers and authority to enforce any and all decrees made for the standards of education. Dolores had been tapped for that role.
She was eagerly awaiting the start of the new school term, as her last strike at Dumbledore had unexpectedly failed. She had hoped to expedite Albus' fall from grace by removing the boy-who-lived from his protection, and a trial for underage magic would have been just the thing to put the lying wretch in ministry hands. So Dolores had used her access to send a troop of Dementors to the boy's home, in an effort to either lure him into casting spells, or to remove his soul. Either way it would be a victory. However, the boy had not cast magic, nor had he been harmed, so she would be forced to try again. He would be at her mercy for an entire school year after all.
As their meeting came to a close, Dolores was thrilled with the powers she would wield once September first came around. That school would be hers by Christmas.
Cornelius was thrilled as well, with such a dedicated woman on the job, Dumbledore would be naught but a footnote in his biography.
AN: In case anyone is curious, the inspiration for Voldemort's hideaway was Lacock Abbey. For those unaware, it is an actual abbey in Wiltshire that really was a nunnery and fortress. It eventually became the home of the Talbot family, and is most well known for Henry Fox-Talbot, one of the developers of the modern photography system. What is accepted as the first photographic negative features a window from the abbey during one of his many experiments on the property. The abbey also had a role in the first two Harry Potter movies, where it served as the interior shots of Hogwarts corridors. As you may surmise, with no Tom Riddle to purchase it, it went to national trust in the mid forties, and currently serves as a museum.