Finding a Place to Call Home

Wanda: Whew! It took me a while to work this chapter out and I'm not sure why, but its finally here and I'm sorry I kept you guys waiting! I promise I know what I'm doing. The problem in this story I realized is Voldemort. I mean, after a while it becomes increasingly difficult to find creative ways to off the bastard, and he's such a big part of the story he's impossible to ignore to pass off to someone else as I found out when I was trying to write this part. I finally came up with something, so here's the start of it.

Chapter 10: Run Down

Harry, Astoria, Graham, Lilith and Daphne stepped out into the Britain station and looked around. It took a few seconds for the sights they saw to register, and another few seconds for them to sink in. For a second, the lot wondered if they had taken the wrong portkey, but a few sights made it clear that this was the alley they had wandered in and out of for the better part of their young lives.

Harry sucked in a shocked breath, Graham grimaced, Daphne gasped, and Astoria made no attempt to hide her disbelief.

"What happened?" She said, stupefied. She waved vaguely in the direction of the streets, which had people bustling in and out, mostly out, grabbing things and looking around as though they expected to be set upon by Demetors.

"Wizarding Britain's oversea reputation has taken a big hit over the last few months." Graham responded, looking around.

"I know that!" Astoria exclaimed, stepping out into the streets. "But...all this? We haven't been away for that long, have we? How could this have all quickly?"

Harry followed after her mostly on instinct, he was still looking around and trying to reconcile the sights with the last time he remembered seeing this place. It was difficult; Diagon Alley was now a ghost town. Most of the shops were closed, the tone of the atmosphere was harried and mistrustful, and it looked as though it were on its last legs.

"Some of the trade partners might have decided to pull their support. Their less savoury laws came to light during Sirius's trial. Word and gossip spreads now that people are looking with a critical eye." Graham said with a matter of fact shrug, being the first to recover from the sight.

"What most of the people who think they ran the world didn't realize was that not everyone was just going to accept this, especially if they realized that there were places that didn't. The muggleborns knew by now that they weren't wanted, so if there were better places to be...why stay?" He added, nodding towards the closed shops.

Lilith nodded. "People do not bear the weathering of the world the way the earth does," She said. "It was foolish of them to expect such. Borders would break down. People would move out. Their money looses its value. Things happen."

Graham looked unduly pleased that she agreed with him, and wandered back to a place not far from her left. If Lilith was aware of his desire for her approval, she hadn't seemed to register it yet. Harry had suspected as much if her only steady human companion before this had been her father and other family members.

"I know...but this..." Astoria gestured vaguely with her hands. "I never imagined it would happen this quickly."

"Neither did I," Daphne admitted. She looked almost wistful as she took in the devastation of the streets. Harry realized that this was the only world she had known before this. Despite the flaws it had possessed, he felt sympathy for her – she had matured thinking that it was simply how things were meant to go. Saying goodbye to your former home couldn't be easy, even if it was the best thing to do.

Daphne acknowledged this, sighing and turning to stare up the main road where most people were headed. "I thought that it was just another scandal that would pass just as quickly as it came, but this is...permanent. The damage has been done."

"I guess I expected something," Harry said, "But not this fast, or this easily. I suppose I was used to this kind of environment, so I didn't expect people to question it much. There must have been a lot of people just waiting for an extra reason to leave...or they were already thinking about it and this was just the proverbial straw that broke the camels' back."

Diagon Alley was a shadow of its former self and a warning to the wizard sect of Britain of what was to come. Once a bustling, full of life corner, it was now the outdated corner of every city that no one visited anymore. Like a goodbye to an older age, but one that was passing with less fanfare then earlier times.

The longer Harry looked about, the more it felt like an evacuation, an exodus, albeit one that the citizens were undertaking themselves. He could see a lot of families moving about, gathering provisions that wouldn't look out of place on a long trip. There were a lot of children that would have been in Hogwarts standing next to their parents, acting almost like lookouts.

That might not be entirely inaccurate conclusion, he realized, given Voldemort's return and the continued silence from the Ministry and the Order. For a country that had quasy-confirmed the return of a dangerous maniac, it looked as though certain people were trying very hard to pretend that nothing had changed.

A lot of familiar landmarks that Harry had seen when he first arrived in the Alley with Hagrid were closed, including the familiar shop. Harry had a brief feeling of sadness that the happy memory would now be mixed with these sights, but he remembered what the rest of the world was like and his heart was assured, if no less surprised.

The air was hot and tense like the silence before a storm. Lilith had told Harry that the emotions of wizards can be felt in their magic, and after a few days with the moon-cursed girl Harry started to see what she meant. He thought that this might be part of releasing Lilith's curse, and he kept that in the back of his mind.

"Good lord," Daphne whispered. "I wondered why father was talking to me about moving before the trial. I need to get outside more."

Daphne looked distinctly out of her element as she looked around. Harry didn't blame her for needing some time to take everything in. Her world had been roughly uprooted not long ago by the disappearance of her sister, then Dumbledore had gotten in hot water with the ICW, international opinions were turning against Britain, and finally the corrupt and unsafe school that nevertheless had functioned as a staple of her old life had been infiltrated and one of the students killed.

Older people had needed longer times to accept and process such things, and she had struggled to do it in half the time that most had taken.

Harry was just happy that Astoria's family had come back to their senses after he and Tori had run away. They had turned to the philosophy as a means of comfort and stability without really realizing the dangers of it. But now they knew. And they weren't going to be sucked down in this dredge along with the fanatical purebloods who were going to waste away in this devolving population.

He knew enough about history to recognize what had happened to this place and to see where this was going. Contrary to what a lot of purebloods thought, muggleborns and half bloods made up a significant portion of Britain's population.

Now a lot of them were leaving, having taken in the unjust laws of the pureblood-controlled Ministry and were fed up with the treatment they had received. And they were the people doing all the simple and menial work that the 'pure in blood' had deemed beneath them but was vital to the country functioning.

A glance over at Graham and Lilith told him that they recognized this too, though he had expected as much. Lilith was observing the damage with a look of utter dispassion while Graham looked somewhat amused and even a little satisfied.

"I think it's less a matter of going outside then it is a matter of circumstance and casualty coming to roost," Harry told Daphne. "People don't put up with being mistreated forever, Daphne. Eventually they'll get angry and leave. That's what they're doing now."

"Well, not all of them are leaving," Astoria noted, glancing across the road. She just saw a couple of Gryffindors who had been a part of the bullying campaign against Harry disappearing into one of the remaining stores. "The ones who were a part of the system don't understand why its breaking down, so they're staying."

Graham snorted in contempt, before looking around to see if he could get any recent news that might help them while they were stopping here.

Daphne frowned. "Of course they would...they still don't see why what they were doing was wrong, even when its staring them in the face. Just like Parkinson and Malfoy and their cronies."

"That's what's so simple about these sort of people." Harry said with a certain amount of satisfaction. "They're so twisted and petty that they burn themselves out and destroy each other. Give them enough rope, and they hang themselves."

"If you're referring to the imbreeding and driving away all their international allies, I know exactly which rope you mean Harry," Daphne said. Then she added with a sigh, "I can't believe why I ever thought it was a good idea to be a part of that. That this was how life was supposed to be like for the noble people."

Astoria walked over to her sister and clasped her hand in a small gesture of forgiveness. Daphne smiled gratefully at her.

"They were good at fooling people into thinking they were powerful," Lilith said, partially in answer to Daphne and partially in a tone of prediction. "And making themselves look powerful. But without people believing that or accepting that, they have no power."

At this, the silver haired girl touched her restraining shackles and looked skyward. She would know what real power was, especially in comparison to those who thought they possessed it but were mere posers and pompous ponces.

"They always...beget their own destruction. If there's any salvation for them, they throw it away with both hands. They've already done that." Lilith finished, nodding towards Harry. "Once their world has finally broken down, they'll realize that, and it'll be too late."

A few years ago, Harry would have shivered at Lilith's cold, calculated theory. But now, he could see only people who didn't deserve to be saved, people who mistreated him and anyone they thought was below them. Everyone else had read the writing on the wall and bolted to safety on their own power. The rest had made their choice...and now they could live with it.

Graham walked over to the nearest newspaper stand and grabbed the first issue.

Astoria frowned and looked in the direction of Gringotts, which was only a few blocks away. "It looks like the bank is still open," She said.

Graham hurried back over to the group and held out the paper. "Hogwarts is closed," He said. "I'm not surprised after Weasley's death, but it means the old man won't be there. I don't know where he goes when he's not at the school."

Harry huffed. "I don't know where he lives either."

"Father might know," Astoria said thoughtfully. "He worked with the Ministry, and he did some inspections of the school after the year with the basilisk."

"Let's go to Gringotts first," Daphne suggested. "If the Hallows are Harry's inheritance, they'd be the first person to know about it. The goblins might not like wizards much, but they hate liars and thieves much more. If we want help finding the Hallows, that would be a good place to start looking."

"Good idea." Harry said decisively, and the group put up their hoods and walked rapidly in the direction of the large goblin establishment.

At Gringotts

"Can I help you?"

"I have a question about my inheritance. I believe the cloak my father passed down to me once belonged to the Peverells." Harry began, but as it turned out he didn't need to explain much further – every goblin in earshot turned and looked at him.

"Show me," Griphook said firmly after a moment of silence. Harry glanced back at Astoria, who nodded. With a little reluctance, he pulled out the invisibility cloak which at one point in time had been his only link to his mother and father, who had died so long ago.

The goblin looked it over for a minute and ran his fingers over the edges. "...Indeed it is. Come. Only Mr. Potter, if you will," He said.

Astoria nodded in understanding, while Graham scowled his disapproval. Daphne put a hand on his shoulder. Harry glanced back at them before continuing after Griphook.

The cart whisked further down then Harry had ever been before. "I have a feeling that someone was trying to keep these from me," He started to say, but the other goblin, Greeva, raised a clawed hand.

"We understand your concern, Mr Potter, indeed I have a fairly good idea who you're referring to. But we're going to check the records to see if any deals have been violated before we can seize anything."

"Understood," Harry said politely. The cart pulled to a stop in front of a particularly old looking vault that had two trolls guarding it. Griphook took the lantern and the three walked into the vaults, the trolls grunting at probably the first living beings they had seen in a while.

"This is the Peverell vault." Griphook explained as Harry stepped inside. It looked different from the vault his parents had left for him – there was gold and silver, of course, but it was also filled with old artifacts, picture frames, and three boxes at the very end of the vault.

"We confirmed in your father's time that the Potter family is descended from the Peverells," Greeva said in a low voice as Griphook walked towards the boxes. "The Will of Peverell was created by the youngest, Ignoitus, in order so that the Hallows would never be united by the wrong person."

"Do you know exactly what would happen if the Hallows were united?" Harry asked curiously.

Greeva smiled just a bit, his goblin constitution making it look more like a frightening snarl. "I wouldn't know, Mr Potter. No one has dared do so since the time of the Peverells."

That didn't give Harry good feelings about the 'Master of Death' title.

"The Wand isn't here." Griphook reported. He had turned around and his voice was that of grave seriousness. "Neither is the ring."

"What?" Greeva demanded, walking over. Griphook handed him the boxes. Greeva snarled something in the goblin tongue that Harry was willing to bet shouldn't be heard by first graders.

"Mr. Potter, I'm afraid we're going to need you to do an inheritance test." The goblin stated angrily.

Harry started. "Right now? What's the problem?"

"Two people have breached the sacred contract involving the Peverell's greatest artifacts." Greeva responded testily. "We'll need to activate the failsafe to recall them, but for that we need a living heir to the Peverell family."

"...which is me." Harry said with dawning understanding. "Right. But I thought-"

"It's simply confirmation, Mr Potter." Griphook interupted, as though he had read Harry's mind. "To root out potential thieves and leave no loopholes. The goblins do not appreciate either, though that hasn't stopped the wizards from attempting it."

There was a dangerous glint in his eye, and Harry bowed his head. "Understood."

The Gaunt Shack

Dumbledore felt very weary by the time he had worked past the last of the traps Riddle had lain on the shack where his family had once lived. Now, complicated spells were nothing too strenuous for him. It was everything else.

Despite his increasing attempts to hold everything together, the world he had sworn to maintain was falling apart at the seams! They had had more wizards emigrate from their lands then any point before, even during the last war. Dumbledore didn't understand it. Even last time, people stayed and fought. Why were they leaving now?

Harry...even Harry, who he thought had every reason to stay and fight, had chosen to up and leave and hadn't been seen despite his best attempts to track the boy down. Then Granger had left the school, and the muggleborns in the Ministry had almost simultaneously quit their jobs in the following of Sirius Black's international trail. And this was all with his own impending case of obstruction of justice hanging over his head!

Dumbledore sighed and drew the Elder Wand. At least, even if he was the only one (in his mind) who cared about the future of wizardkind, and the defeat of Voldemort, he still knew the whole story (or so he thought) of the Hallows and what they meant. Riddle thought he understood it – it was why the stone was part of his ensemble.

Albus uncovered the box and opened it. There it was, the ring with the stone on it. The Elder Wand in one hand, Albus reached out for it -

Suddenly, the ring shimmered, and then broke with a mighty crack. Stunned, Albus turned it over. The stone had ripped itself clean off the horcrux and vanished into thin air.

Frantically, Albus looked around, before realizing he was no longer holding the Elder Wand.

With Harry

"So..." Daphne said slowly, looking at the table. "These are the Hallows."

Harry nodded. The items in question were spread across the table, the kids surrounding them. After the two Hallows had been recalled, they had doubled back to Japan through a portkey network set up by Sirius – it had been dangerous enough to stay in Britian for as long as they had. Harry had organized the Hallows and rather looked as though he expected the roof to come down.

But so far, the mysterious items had been quiet.

"I admit, I was expecting a bit more..." Graham trailed off as though searching for a word.

"Fanfare?" Harry suggested. "Maybe an explosion, where it blows up in my face and puts the mark of death on me, or something like that?"

Graham looked incredulously at him and said, "Muggle fantasy movies are only right half the time, Harry. I merely expected some sort of reaction."

"..." Lilith was looking at the table as though seeing something else.

"Maybe there's some sort of ritual we're supposed to do?" Astoria wondered.

"He's ready," Lilith said.

"What?" Harry asked. "Whoa!"

Suddenly, a pulse of magic rushed through the room, nearly knocking Harry off his feet.

Stars spun in front of his eyes, seasons whirled around him, time lost its meaning, and when he came back to himself he was standing on the edge of a beach in a dark night. He looked around, and the first person he saw was Lilith, glowing like the moon, standing next to him. But before he could ask her what had happened, a new voice broke the silence.

"Are you my master?"

Harry turned to see a young girl standing in the water...or more correctly, on top of the water. She had long mass of black hair hanging down her back, her clothes were all black and torn as though she had been in a vicious fight. Her eyes were red and burning, and Harry's entire being flooded with fear and astonishment.

He was meeting Death.

End Chapter

I...was honestly expecting Harry to meet Death in canon. I mean, with all the buildup for the Hallows I expected them to be the Reaper's calling cards, which would drag Voldemort off to the underworld or something. Instead, what kills Voldemort is random wand rules.

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