"Albus, I think we have a problem. No, I'm sure that we do."
"What is the problem? Is it the students breaking into the potions cabinet for recreational purposes again?" Albus wasn't quite certain that he entirely believed Madam Pomfrey's report of break-ins and thefts. The school matron had been conspicuously cheerful for the week before she made the report. And Albus was certain that the students as a whole were too dedicated to their studies to do something so foolish and irresponsible as to dose themselves without a medical professional's advice.
Wait a minute! Albus checked the calendar. Today's date was divisible by three, making this a "students are little criminals who need to be watched every minute" day.
Poppy must be right. Those spotty little rotters had broken in and stolen school resources. The only trouble would be identifying which of the little bastards had done it. He'd just have to punish them all.
Pomfrey's voice pulled Albus out of his plans.
"No, this is potentially much more serious. I was going over my records, trying to figure out how I missed Pansy Potter's decline in magical ability, when I spotted it."
"What did you spot, Poppy?" She always did this, make leading statements and then wait until he responded as expected. It annoyed Albus greatly. He was the one who was supposed to be playing games with words and lives!
"My records on Mrs Potter – Miss Parkinson, she was at the time – have been tampered with. The pages which should show her magical power last year and earlier this year were replaced by a page for some unnamed girl, probably a firstie who was just coming into her magic."
"Before we leap to conclusions, we must conduct a thorough investigation. Is it possible that you simply misfiled the pages? Perhaps you could check the records of the younger students and see if you find Miss Parkinson's – Mrs Potter's – pages in another folder."
"Well! I've never been so insulted! I need not remind you that I have been doing this job for over twenty years and I don't make mistakes! And I'll have you know that I am very busy and do not have the time to go through dozens of folders, certainly not for a foolish task as this would be."
"Yes, you're quite right. It must have been tampering by another. Do you have any idea of who might have done it?"
"I seem to recall that when I was working on paperwork last September, a pair of students came into the infirmary for some minor problem. While I was taking care of their concerns, Harry Potter stopped in briefly but left without asking for my assistance."
"That does sound suspicious. Do you have anything else to add?"
"Only that Mr Potter has not needed my attention all year. Most years he'll come to me almost weekly, between Quidditch injuries and other mishaps."
"As if he's been avoiding you. I agree, that does make him look guilty. Thank you, Poppy. I'll take it from here."
As the matron bustled her way out, Albus thought about the criminal justice system. Trials weren't needed, so long as the crime investigators were as honest and diligent as he. It might be possible to trim the ministry budget a bit by reducing the number of trials conducted.
But back to the case at hand, this was more evidence that Harry was turning to the dark side. Between attacking other students, sending his wife out to infect and destroy his enemies, and threatening to leave his wife at the bottom of the lake, he was showing an utterly callous disregard for the lives of others.
It broke Albus's heart to see another of his students going bad. It was no surprise that this came to light on a divisible-by-three day.
Hermione Granger – Associate Professor Hermione Granger, thank you very much – felt a twinge of guilt. A dispassionate observer might say she was abusing her position.
On the other hand, she was the one in a position to be abused, in more ways than one. Deputy Headmistress McGonagall had convinced her to take the job for no pay, claiming the school didn't have the money for another salary. That seemed unlikely, as they'd been paying Snape handsomely to do a worse job than Hermione was doing, but Hermione had accepted under the condition that she would immediately be granted her Potions NEWT and that she would have access to a time-turner to allow her to teach Potions while taking her other classes. McGonagall had been reluctant to agree to that latter point, remembering Hermione's over-use of it the previous year, but they worked out a compromise with McGonagall keeping the time-turner and the student-professor going to her at need.
Hermione's final requirement had been that she would be able to make use of other willing students to assist with any difficulties she encountered in teaching while still taking classes herself.
That demand had been worded very carefully.
A handful of older volunteers helped with grading the papers and potions in exchange for tutoring. There'd been a bit of a pissing contest – literally; Hermione had challenged the loudest complainers to brew hospital-quality diuretics and had left them all looking all wet – over accepting a professor younger than the students, but it had worked out well enough.
And that left just the pressure and tension and responsibility and stress of her new job.
Luckily, Harry was her best friend. He would do anything to help her, even if she hadn't offered him remedial potions lessons.
"I think we'll see better results if you relax your wrist until the final snap."
Hermione had quickly trained him to spank just hard enough. The professor felt a twinge of guilt whenever she thought about lying across a married student's lap one or two or seven nights per week…
But then Harry's hand moved slightly and it wasn't guilt that was foremost in the youngest professor's mind.
Peter Pettigrew felt miserable. First there was this whole thing about taking care of a baby-sized Dark Lord, and having to feed him by extracting venom from that monstrous snake and then brewing a terrible-smelling green potion. And changing the diapers. Living as a rat, with a rat's sense of smell, in the pocket of a teenage boy with questionable standards of hygiene was better than having to take care of the atrocity that occurred four hours after every feeding the Dark Mooncalf. Nothing he had ever seen or heard had prepared him for that green, sticky mess, nor for the Dark Thing's screaming, "Make sure to wipe it all off this time! This body is very delicate!"
Making it worse, Peter had to do almost everything by hand, the muggle way. Something was wrong with his magic lately and the usual child care charms didn't work properly. Neither did the hundred other charms and transfigurations a wizard used every day. The poor wizard was kept busy until he dropped, just taking care of himself and his master.
And now, with his magic misbehaving, Peter couldn't even indulge himself in the one pleasure in his life. He could barely apparate now, certainly not all the way up to Hogsmeade. He couldn't get to the brothel in Hogsmeade on his monthly half day off. That was the only adult establishment he knew of which would cater to a wizard of his limited means. Extremely limited means, but outside of Hogwarts's Hogsmeade weekends, the small establishment didn't have much business, so a few sickles was enough to hire one of their non-top-shelf girls.
Peter coughed and sneezed again as he prepared another disgusting meal of venom and bile. To top it all off, he was coming down with something, probably a result of too little sleep and living in wrecked building in the wet springtime. He'd gone wrong somewhere, he reflected gloomily. He was working harder, was appreciated less, and had less money than when he was a student twenty years ago.
"Curse you, Pettigrew!" Peter had sneezed right in Voldebaby's face.
"I'm sorry, Master. I've caught a cold and do not have the money to buy Pepper-Up Potion."
Peter died that night. His illness had been a bit more than a simple cold.
Voldemort raged, but there was nothing he could do. None of his slaves would come until called, and he could not call them without a wand and a living Dark Mark. His wand was only a few feet away but this construct body was too weak to drag itself such a distance.
This construct body also could not die. The body hungered and withered and suffered, but it could not die, not so long as Voldemort had magic to power it. Voldemort's spirit suffered along with the body, but there was nothing he could do.
Before long, the suffering ended, thanks to the Blythe's Blight Peter had picked up and then sneezed onto his master. Voldemort, ungrateful being that he was, wasn't even grateful for the end of his suffering as he winked out of existence.
Daphne Greengrass sat in the common room, ears open and mouth shut. The meeting wasn't mandatory, per se, but every Slytherin felt the pressure to attend and to contribute what he or she knew which could help.
"Dumbledore asked all of us prefects if we'd seen Potter doing anything suspicious. We didn't have enough for him, so he told us to ask all you lot."
"You mean, aside from Potter turning us all into squibs? What more does Dumbledore want?"
"We're not all infected. Just the boys who'd been with Plague Rat Parkinson."
"And the girlfriends – former girlfriends – of the boys who'd been with the Plague Rat."
"Hey! Why are you blaming me? I'm not the one who went out and got sick! And I didn't get myself sick again after Pomfrey cured me the first time. It was all stupid Potter's fault!"
Daphne stayed out of the ensuing shouting match. It served no purpose. Pansy would never admit that she had caught the blight on her own. Potter wasn't sick, and he'd never even touched Pansy except to grab her arm a few times. It was obvious to anyone who could think that he had had nothing to do with it. Daphne made eye contact with the few other Slytherins who could think. Surely an ambitious person who could think could profit from this mess.
The quarrel was easy to ignore until it petered out. The volume was much lower than usual for this type of discussion. It had become de rigeur for purebloods to keep a bubblehead charm up at all times, or to wear a mask covering the nose and mouth if they couldn't cast the charm. Both worked to make the shouting quieter, and many Slytherins no longer had the spare magical power to cast a Sonorus charm to overcome that.
"Listen," the Seventh Year female prefect said once everyone had settled into a sullen and finger-pointing silence, "we all agree that Potter is the one who did this to us. The question is, do we turn him over to Dumbledore or do we take care of him ourselves?"
"I say we do it ourselves. Everyone knows Potter is Dumbledore's pet. All he'd do is slap him on the wrist in public and then find an excuse to give him five hundred house points at the leaving feast."
"You're right, but what can we do to him? Some of us already went to pay him back last week, but he attacked us first, before we were ready. We're lucky there's no Quidditch this year. Bole and Derrick will never fly again."
"Yah, and then the halfblood bastard pretended he didn't know anything about it when he 'found' us all on the hallway floor a minute later."
"I agree with Parkinson. It's totally not normal for a husband to let his wife sleep around. He must have had some reason for it. Whatever it is, it's not what we thought. It's not just him being a weakling and her making him let her do it."
"You got that right. He's been covering for her with the prefects and professors."
"And he terrorized a bunch of girls who were calling Parkinson a slut because she'd been with their boyfriends. I hear Michaels still wets herself when she hears his voice."
"It's mostly us Slytherins that are getting hurt, right? And it's mostly us Slytherins that Parkinson is slutting around" – "Hey!" – "with, right? What if we got it all wrong, that she wasn't making him let her slut around, he was making her slut around and then using that as an excuse to beat the hell out of us?"
"I don't think that's it. Potter never said a word to any of us, even when he himself caught Nott with his wife. He didn't beat the hell out of any of us until we cornered him. Same with the girls. He didn't do anything to them except to defend his wife."
"He didn't have to attack us. He was already using Parkinson to turn us into squibs."
"The point is, I think that if we had left him alone, he'd have left us alone."
"I can't believe this!" Pansy shouted. She had to shout. She was one of the students who couldn't cast a Sonorus if her life depended on it. "Are you going to let him get away with it? I don't care about you, but what about me? He used me, his own wife!"
That outburst didn't cost Pansy as much as it would have in any other house. Most of the Slytherins thought the same way, themselves and their ambition first, housemates second. Nevertheless, she kicked off another round of quarreling, this time focusing on her central role in the infection and weakness that had swept through the school.
Except… it wasn't all of the students who'd succumbed.
"I just thought of something. It's only the proper wizards and witches who Potter is turning into squibs. No mudbloods and no blood traitors, right?"
"I think you're right. I think there were a couple of halfbloods, but only the kind of halfblood who support the proper traditions and know their place."
"Well, of course not!" Pansy put in. "Do you think I'd dirty myself with a m–" She looked around fearfully. She had never been able to tell anyone what Potter had done to her, but the word mudblood had not passed her lips since the beginning of the school year. "Dirty myself with one of them? My body is only for purebloods."
Purebloods with a few extra galleons, Daphne thought cattily.
"That's what I meant. Potter must have known you'd only slut around with the proper type. He got you sick and then pointed you at his enemies."
"That's right! Stupid Potter was there when Pomfrey made me tell her who I'd been with. And he looked happy when he heard how many there were. No, not happy, he was pleased."
"That fits with something else I saw myself. Hey, John, do you remember what Potter said when you and me and some others cornered him and were telling him we'd all been with his wife?"
"Yah. He didn't get upset at all. He just told us we'd gotten what we deserved."
"Let's wrap this up," said the male Seventh Year prefect. "I still have to do my Potions homework for Professor Mudblood. We've figured out that Potter brought in that prostitute, got her to infect Parkinson and probably obliviated her afterward, and then pointed Parkinson at all the right-thinking purebloods. Then he sat back and watched his enemies get sick."
"And don't forget," put in his counterpart, "he made sure no one in the school stopped her. He didn't let Parkinson get detention and didn't let the other girls give her a hard time. Does anyone have anything else to add, or should we take this to Dumbledore?"
"I've got something to add! He's destroyed a dozen families. My father and uncles are dead and my grandparents are too old to have more and I'm almost a squib. The Zabini family is as good as dead because of Potter!"
"He's evil! He's a dark lo–"
"Quiet, you idiot! Don't let him hear you say that. He's still pretending to be naive and innocent like he's not doing any of this. And we know what 'accidents' happen to everyone who finds out what he's up to."
The meeting broke up without much more ado. Without Snape to cover for them, the Slytherin students had to turn in all of their homework complete and on time to all of their professors. There were no more official excuses from their head of house for late work.
Daphne kept her face dispassionate as she sat and thought, but only long practice kept her from drooling. Potter had realized that a halfblood who had destroyed a dark lord would never be accepted by the powerful traditionalists who supported that dark lord and he had acted brilliantly and ruthlessly to pull their teeth. He was tearing down society, obviously so he could rebuild it with himself in command. Oh, how she wanted him!
Albus Dumbledore looked sadly at the grounds and people on this June evening. It would take all of his skill and the calling in of many favors to salvage anything from the ruins all around him.
Harry Potter had ruined everything.
"Wizards, witches, students, and honored guests, welcome to the third and final task of the Tri-wizard Tournament. As you have no doubt surmised by now, the task is to navigate a perilous maze." The maze was not as perilous as it should have been. The maze had grown shaggy and only a fraction of its planned challenges were in place. The groundskeeper and magical creatures expert who should have been seeing to the maze was confined to bed, lacking the magic which was all that allowed a man of that size to move. "The first to reach the end and lay hands on the golden trophy will be declared the winner. In the event that no competitor reaches the goal, the one who comes closest will win the event and the tournament."
His words, being recorded for the official record of the tournament, did not reflect the grim truth. The slate of tri-wizard champions had been considerably winnowed. Only one was prepared to undertake the task.
"Will the contestants please line up for their final instructions before the event begins." Albus requested. Ludo Bagman should have been making the announcements and giving the instructions for this event, as he had for the other two. Albus had to fill in because Ludo had disappeared without a trace and there was no one else to perform that function.
Potter again, no doubt.
The worst part was that Albus didn't know if the devastation had been wrought by malice or by sheer, unplanned happenstance. His special calendar had been destroyed, along with the rest of his office and living quarters, when someone apparently filled his office with an explosive gas which detonated the next time Fawkes flamed in, and now he never knew whether students were little criminals in the making or were the hapless victims of circumstance and misunderstanding. And someone else had done the deed when Harry was in class, so he couldn't even blame Harry for the destruction. Or could he? Without the calendar to tell him otherwise it was entirely possible that today was an "all students are little criminals" day.
Albus was going to have to punish Harry in some way, and he had to do it today because tomorrow was a "students are victims of circumstance" day. Except it wasn't! Without his calendar to tell him otherwise, Albus could treat tomorrow as an "all students are little criminals" day, too. It was a liberating thought.
But right now there was a tournament to run.
"Champions, do you have any questions on the task ahead of you?" Albus dreaded the answer. The little criminal standing before him surely had something in his misbegotten little mind, something to ruin things even further.
"Why are we even doing this? The other three have gotten themselves disqualified, so I automatically win, right?"
Curse the brat! He wasn't supposed to say that out loud where the microphones and the world-wide listening audience could hear it.
"Under the rules, conventions, agreements, and guidelines under which the Tournament's operation has been established, the tasks must be attempted by all able champions. Failure by an able champion to even attempt a task will result in penalties.
"Now, given that there are no more questions" – Albus certainly wasn't going to give the malicious little hoodlum the chance to put that assertion to the lie – "we are ready. Begin!"
Potter stood there.
"Mr Potter, is there a problem? You indicated that you did understand what I told you, did you not?"
"Oh, I understood what you said. And I understood what you didn't say, too. What's it worth to you?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"You want me to do this more than I want to. I figure, if the Goblet is smart enough to pick the best champions from all the names put in, then it's smart enough to know that I didn't put my name in myself and the magic won't punish me much, maybe not at all. There's not much downside to my just standing here. So if you want me to risk myself in the maze, you have to make it worth my while."
Albus had had enough. "Begone! The power of the Cup compels you!" And before anyone could say another word, Harry was levitated through the opening of the maze, which closed itself behind him.
It wasn't enough that Potter had sent his loathsomely diseased wife out to weaken the innocent heirs of many of the pureblood families. (And then she had somehow managed to infect half of the students of the combined schools. She hadn't done it directly, though that was hard to understand. There was some way she had infected students with whom she had never had personal contact. It was some magic involving mathematics, never Albus's strong suit.)
It wasn't enough that he'd obviously set her on the other champions – though Albus didn't want to think of how the Beauxbatons champion had become infected; the thought of two girls together was just sickening.
And it wasn't even enough that he'd somehow managed to have the sick breeder infect the other three judges – the other three judges who hadn't disappeared without a word – while the school was on lockdown to prevent the magic-consuming disease from spreading beyond the Hogwarts grounds.
No, the brat had to go on and make a mockery of the tournament while the wireless system was broadcasting. Albus was peeved. He would have his revenge!
Before he could finalize his revenge plans – he'd gotten hung up at the spanking step – an enchanted horn played a fanfare and the hedgerows shrank down into the earth.
"Wizards and witches, it would appear that we have a winner! In a surprise upset victory, Harry Potter was the first to the center of the maze. Please applaud while we wait for the other champions to join us."
The applause was half-hearted at best. Albus understood the lack of enthusiasm for the victory of the Dark Lord in Training, though he thought a more circumspect audience would have at least feigned enthusiasm. Dark lords had notoriously long memories for lack of respect.
"Congratulations, Mr Potter. On behalf of Hogwarts, I would like to request that you give us the trophy for our trophy room."
"No, I'm going to keep it in my bathroom, I think."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Where else would you put a golden chamber pot?"
The nerve! The brat had no respect for the dignity of centuries-old wizarding institutions. Albus bit back what he was going to say only because the microphone was still on and he was mindful of his reputation before a world-wide audience.
Keeping it all in might be good for your reputation but it's bad for your health. In particular, it's bad for your blood pressure and for all those itty-bitty capillaries running through your brain.
Albus Dumbledore died as he had lived, a brightly-colored spectacle standing out in front of the entire magical world.
Pansy wept as she walked from the headmaster's – headmistress's – office down to the Slytherin dorms the day before the end of term. She had already been unhappy that stupid Potter had survived the tournament, but now she'd been given the devastating news that her father had died in a freak depilatory accident. Pansy wept in part because she truly was sad and in part because it would be expected by anyone who happened to see her. She had to make sure to be seen to be sad because she was the one who had bought her father the magically enhanced shaving cream. Who ever would have guessed it would have that reaction when exposed to his cologne?
As she walked and wept her crocodile tears, Pansy calculated. She would have to throw a lavish funeral and she'd have to give her brother a comfortable annuity – he was disqualified as the family heir because he was unable to produce an heir of his own, but he was still a family member. Other than that, the Parkinson wealth was hers, hers, hers!
It was enough money to arrange for an accident for her dear husband, and then the Potter wealth would be hers, too! And the Black fortune, too – she'd figured out her stupid husband's little trick. But she'd have to be careful. She was less concerned with the law than with social status and the magical marriage contract.
Engrossed in her plans, Pansy didn't notice when a stairway shifted just as she was stepping onto the top step. If she'd had her magic, she would have bounced after the three-story fall onto hard stone. But then, if she'd had her magic, the stairway would not have shifted just when it did. Hogwarts's moving staircases were designed to challenge the students, not to injure them, and were sensitive to the presence of magic beings.
The next several years passed quietly. Quietly unless someone did or said anything unfavorable to Potter.
His wife had died right after school let out. Her neck had been broken in an accident at the school. Magical healing could do nothing for her; magical families usually gave a gravely injured member a potion to stop both the heart and the cost of supporting a useless cripple. Potter, not raised properly, had offered to keep her alive with non-magical devices, but she had quite rightly refused. "I'd rather be dead than touch that muggle garbage." Her epitaph was very moving. Surprisingly so, coming from a halfblood. "Pansy lived as a pureblood and she died holding true to her pureblood beliefs. All purebloods should take a lesson from her death."
Not many in the magical world had ever had much contact with him, so the powerful families turned to his former schoolmates to learn what they could. Of course, many of his former schoolmates were squibs now, and not suitable to be seen talking to, but the fact that Potter had turned dozens of fine, upstanding pureblood wizards and witches into squibs was a massive portent on its own.
Of course, the deep thinkers in the magical world wanted to know what had turned Potter into such a dark monster. After examining all of the evidence, they concluded that it was the Tri-wizard Tournament. In retrospect, it appeared that forcing an unwilling fourteen-year-old to compete was not the wisest move. Someone had suggested that it was the forced marriage to Pansy Parkinson that had been the trigger, but that suggestion was ignored as the nonsense it was. Who wouldn't have been honored to marry such a paragon of pureblood tradition?
The public and the ministry walked even more carefully around Potter as the evidence mounted that he was not only a dark lord but an insane dark lord. No normal wizard would have been so broken up at the death of a house elf, even going so far as to bury it just as if it were a person.
The only good to come of that event was that the mysterious accidents stopped with the elf's death. The wizarding public concluded that Potter had put his dark activities on hold because he was in mourning. The ministry and the public collectively decided to do nothing which might take Dark Lord Potter out of his quiet mourning.
And they all lived happily ever after. Well, the wizarding public as a whole was not happy so much as tense, holding their breath as they tiptoed, but it was better than tickling the sleeping dragon.