I HAVE NO IDEA WHY THIS CHAPTER IS NOT UPLOADING CORRECTLY. I promise I'm not messing with your heads. This may simply be a website issue or an upload issue. Here is try number 3.
Angela's Note: Welcome to a new year! I wish you all a more peaceful one than I have had. My personal life has been extremely complicated lately, and part of being a self-employed farmer is that what affects one's personal life tends to bleed right into your business life as well. I've also been struggling with illness for nearly a month. I truly hope you all enjoy this belated update; this story is rapidly approaching a close. I for one will be both elated and sorrowful to see it finish, a bit like a mother both elated and sad to see her child leave for school for the first time. But as the saying goes, if you love something, let it go.
GJMEGA's Note: Hi all! Happy, belated, New Year! While my personal life hasn't been quite as hectic as Angela's, it has been fairly bumpy. Here's hoping for a smooth 2018 and a strong finish to this story; the first one where I've had more than a minor editorial role. If you enjoy this give Angela's other stories a try.
Kraken wasn't back yet. It was unusual for the elf to be gone for longer than the hour he normally checked in on Grimmauld Place, and the timing for a longer trip couldn't be worse.
But Kraken wouldn't stay away if it wasn't important, and they didn't have time to wait for him to return. Harry reluctantly turned away from the room set aside for the house-elves teleportation and returned to where their assembled assault force waited.
No one spoke. All of their plans had already been gone over many times before. He stepped into position and waited for the signal to teleport.
The world spun when they apparated away to the location their scouts had provided, Harry carried along with Ruby's hand on his own. They would have made quite the noise when they appeared, pop and cracks and groans, if not for the sound dampening charms already applied to the wooded clearing by those same scouts.
Colors stilled into focus, the green of trees and the violet of rock and soil, brown lights flickering among the growth. The air was cool against his face, just over the edge of frigid.
Just after dusk, and just before moonrise.
He heard the sounds of the werewolves disrobing, small chuckles and grunts of amusement among the fighters, hissed chiding for silence from the scouts.
Sound dampening charms, not sound proof ones you idiots.
All in good humor, all the camaraderie of men and women used to fighting together. How quickly they had become a unit in the week they had been given.
A deeper silence fell. Harry saw the brown wolf of their patterns falter and shift, a beautiful transformation of more-than-human into less-than-wolf.
They screamed, then, hoarse shouts of unbearable pain. Quiet screams he had once never thought possible from a person, agony forcibly compressed into expulsions of air more than voice.
The scent in the clearing changed, the space smaller with the mass of werewolves in their altered state. The vampires hissed in appreciation of something he could not see as they saw.
Harry opened eyes he had closed, and began to walk. Ahead, the scouts led the way, pausing often to work magic with their wands, checking and rechecking.
A half hour and then an hour of careful walking past trees and through brush.
Then he saw the wards, gleaming golden above the green trees in the endless black sky.
When they reached the boundary, the scouts rejoined their assigned groups. As a unit they paused, the werewolves' deep heavy breaths lupine and distinct as they tested the wind with their greater senses.
Harry took a long moment to test his resolve against his own goal. To consider the outcome of what he was about to do, and its inevitable conclusion.
Then he raised one green-black hand to the wards and tore a jagged hole through the fabric of their structure, golden strands breaking like cut threads and falling away, unraveling, folding back upon itself with a crackle of power.
Somewhere, someone now knew they were coming.
The wolves lifted their muzzles and howled in joyful exultation. As one, they lunged forward in all their many colors, a force knowingly unleashed for perhaps the first time in their lives. Behind them the vampires moved even more swiftly, carbon black threaded souls like flickering fire at their back.
Brennan clasped his arm with sapphire hands, and they were walking forward while the others all slowed, their running leaps like movement in low gravity, slow and graceful.
It was raw power against his skin as the vampire worked his manipulation in a way Harry hadn't yet witnessed, not slowing others but quickening himself and another with him.
The purple stone building loomed ahead, beautifully designed architecture nestled among ruthlessly pruned gardens.
Gardens that thrived with a brown magical signature held apart from their normal green life.
Time became itself again, as vines sprang from the ground to wrap around lupine paws and send werewolves sprawling. An instant later and those vines collapsed into water at Harry's thought, and they were moving forward again.
Bushes whipped out limbs of briar and thorn. The grass spiked and bristled under their boots.
Shouts from ahead, and souls appeared, and the battle began as seamlessly as any thunderstorm he had ever witnessed brew and pour rain upon the ground.
Spells shouted from either side. Colors exchanged like dance partners passing batons through the air in waves of power. Desperation almost like a smell in the air. He didn't intervene. He focused on the gardens, and making them and all the traps they held burn.
He heard the feminine scream of abject rage, a mother outraged at the loss of her children.
And then, as the fire he created burned away the green with hungry scarlet mouths, he saw the brown power that had lurked within the green grass and flowers and thorns sink into the red heat instead.
And he abruptly recalled the woman from the Alley, mouse brown and powder blue, a meek and grateful half-veela who had blown him a kiss and earned his wife's ire. He should have remembered that fact long before this; but the events that followed such a small thing had burned it from his mind.
The tainted fire roared and reformed and devoured Weasley and Trevor where they crouched over fallen robed forms; He heard their howls as they burned, smelled the fur on their bodies melt to their skin.
Harry blinked, and the fire was gone, hoarse whimpers left in its place.
More fire, more plants, red and green, rising around them in a circle, the area they all stood in as clear a trap they had been lured into as any he had ever considered.
Harry let the red rise around them, let it hem them in, and waited.
In a heartbeat of time Brennan was back at his side, breathing heavily, purple color dripping from fingers and fangs.
It was all going as they had planned.
Let her come to them, instead of hounding her through unfamiliar territory.
Harry catalogued the injuries around him, all sustained in the brief moment of their attack and their entrapment. Not as good or as bad as he had imagined, more than he would have liked and less than he had feared.
Laughter in front of them, and there she was at the head of her force, so great to her and so meager to him.
His heart pounded so loudly he was not sure he would hear the words she spoke, but he did, her voice magically magnified to cover the distance.
"I have you, Sorceror! I have you!"
He could only stare at her, this brown woman with her pretty pale blue threads of cracked soul, this woman who had orchestrated the murder of his unborn child and wife. Who had cared nothing for the innocents in the Alley, for the devastation and the terror in her wake.
The woman gestured, and the ground fell under his feet, cries of shock around him. Just as quickly he made solid footing again, an elegant floor of the deeper purple hues of diamond, until they stood only inches lower than they had previously.
The woman screeched; a sound too high to be entirely human.
Her people attacked; souls with colors he did not bother to catalogue.
He had eyes only for her, focus only for her.
Her fire burned his people; her plants sank thorns into flesh, tightened with suffocating force around legs and necks. Around and above them the sphere of red and green collapsed upon them like an avalanche of snow down a mountainside.
He closed his eyes and watched the world fall and heard the woman's screeches of bloodthirsty pleasure.
A heartbeat, as he let her revel in her victory, in the complete rightness of her ambush, this woman whose name he did not even know.
Under his skin, the Cloak moved. Beside his heart, the Stone turned.
Fire was so beautifully complex; the movement of bonding and converging particles, of molecules with combustion, a constant expulsion of light and heat and energy. There were so many different types of fire as well; different fuels, different colors, different levels of heat.
It was hard to scientifically explain how he changed fire into water; how molecules in constant motion slowed and reformed into another state of being, into a substance entirely its opposite. Magically, it was an easier concept to comprehend; he merely changed its pattern and its color; he changed its soul and made it into a new creature.
Deep blue crystalline water fell in droplets on his hot skin, onto the burned skin of his companions to add insult to injury. Vampires hissed and werewolves growled and elves sighed.
The plants he killed this time. Taking their slow moving life and making them into dead things of no movement at all; wilted on the vine and withered in the ground.
Shock had held the people of Luxe still during the seconds of transformation. Now, some ran, and Harry saw how the woman killed them with her own fire, rising up from inside of her in threads of powder blue and ruby red.
Others charged at her singsong shout of rage, high pitched and inhuman.
He let them come. Let them fall upon the fangs that waited for them.
And when she finally turned to run, when she saw the complete and utter failure of all the things she had planned, she found she had nowhere to go.
And it was his turn to laugh, the sound surprising him as it rose from a mouth he didn't remember opening.
Amelia had failed. She perched high on the cliffside, her wings tucked back tight to her back, feathered head drooped in despair at the scolding shrieks of her ancestors.
They waited above her, hooked beaks clicking, dark eyes condemning. She had died in battle, yes, but squandered the gifts they had given her by losing. And to a man. A human male!
"He is no man!" Amelia, the Lady Light, shrieked back, unable to enjoy the freedom of her first time in a fully transformed state, unable to enjoy the heights of a rookery she had only glimpsed during one failed climb up the mountains of her Grandmother's Eeyrie. "No man!"
Their shrieks fell silent. The winds of her memories stilled unnaturally as the light grew dim, and her enemy stood there upon the craggy rocks, pools of green for his eyes, the rest of him a light and dark shadow in the fabric of the world.
She was rage, and anguish, and horror, when she launched herself at him, claws ready to rend and tear. She flew, and there was joy in it, brief and horrible for its swift end.
His hand, was it a hand? Plucked her from the air, holding her in its burning cold grip, as her wings were torn from her body.
There was no physical pain, not here, not in this odd place of her death. It was inside her, as pieces of her soul, pieces of what made her who she was, were torn away.
He was silent as he took her love of flight, her love of fire, her love of fragile green growing things. Silent as he took her hate and her rage, the burning desire and the cold purpose, until nothing was left of her but a child, newly formed and uncertain of why it was held in this strange place by this strange creature.
It felt… felt?
There were cool hands on his shoulders, grasping with strength that had the potential to shatter bones. They held him delicately, comfortingly.
There were sounds around him, low whimpers and thirsty drinking, the crunch and tear of flesh, the vomiting of a person onto the ash of the ground.
And hands on his shoulders where he knelt on the ground, even breathing at his back.
There was only white on the ground in front of him, spread and shattered and torn, a human pattern unraveled into nothing remotely human any more, mostly solid but for the liquid rivulets drying upon it.
He stared blankly at the destruction, coming back into awareness of himself, feeling oddly fragile in his triumph, like a cracked glass dropped upon the floor from too great a distance to remain whole, but not so high as to shatter.
He knew what he had done, and was deeply ashamed of it, because it had no purpose other than to satiate his unadulterated rage. Ashamed, because Hermione would be ashamed of him.
Hermione, who had once cried years ago over a bird killed only to learn how to revive it, its death painless, its state of death easily reversed.
Hermione, his wife.
Harry's chin fell to his chest, and Brennan's solid grip held him upright as he slumped, lifted him to his feet and drew him away from the white cadaver spread across the ground.
Vampires crouched over Luxe members with delicate grips; Werewolves shredded them with no delicacy whatsoever. Through them all Harry saw his own color, emerald green and emerald black and emerald white, not one color and not three, and knew a deeper shame.
Only the house-elves seemed free of his influence; they, and Brennan, whose calm grip seemed to hold him together and real inside his skin.
"Release them gently, Lord Potter." Brennan's cultured voice, calm and soft. "Gently."
And he did, threads of power he did not remember releasing returning back into him.
Vampires collapsed onto their victims. Wolves stumbled away and fell onto their sides, panting.
He had done this to them. His own rage driving their own, twisting their intentions into outright, gruesome slaughter.
"Put them to sleep." Brennan's voice again, and Harry willingly let the vampire's sanity lead him.
Ruby approached, one hand cradled against her side, her face turned away from them. "Ruby cans take us back to the coven."
"A moment, thank you." Brennan replied, and turned Harry to face him, still so slow and gentle.
Harry did, restoring all the bodies around him to their natural state. Fixing broken bones and quickening life, replacing limbs and knitting skin.
He felt the vampire's mind against his own; knew the other man was inside him somehow, weakening his defenses and molding his will to his own. But Harry did not trust himself to be alone in his own skin, and found the guidance a comforting cage.
"Harry." Brennan's voice again, his sapphire soul with its carbon black thread and more colors besides, the colors of his victims that night running through his veins. "Let me tell you what happened tonight."
Soothing, so soothing.
"You killed the Lady Luxe. You protected the people with you. You removed the threat to your family. You are alive. This part of your life is over, this night is over."
The Cloak against his skin, a warm blanket of dark stars.
Everything the vampire said was true.
But it wasn't the whole truth.
"Harry. In your loss of control, you caused others to have loss of control. They felt as you felt; they were too young, too inexperienced to overcome emotions that they too had a facet of. Only the elves who did not hold that emotion, and I, too accustomed to mental control, did not fall to you."
He closed his eyes. He understood. It was the Look; that addictive drive caused by his power that normally moved in unfocused directions. A desire for a favorite food, or a game, or a simple urge to please. Until now, he had not known it could be focused, even commanded. He was not glad that he knew it now.
"You can stop now." Harry's voice was flat. "I won't lose myself again."
He couldn't say what it was that had caused him to lose control; he should have felt cold calculation, should have been calm and procedural even when angry.
But the sight of her had shaken something loose inside of him; the fact that it was cracked and yet vibrant, untroubled by all the horrible things she had done. That he had seen her standing before him in Diagon and suspected nothing, had no inkling of her intent.
A murderer who felt no guilt, only pleasure. Love, even, and joy.
Even when she wanted to kill him and everyone with him, surrounded by the broken souls of her followers, she had shone brightly. And the horrible sight of that had made him so angry.
He had to destroy it; it was wrong. It shouldn't be a part of the world.
He had fixed it.
"You must learn self control." Brennan again, stern now. "You are as dangerous as any untrained youth of my kind ever was."
"How?" Harry demanded. "How, when I do not even comprehend why I am changing this way? I hated her, yes. But this…" He gestured behind him, saw even when he did not wish to see. "This was more than hate. It was mutilation. And worse, mutilation I had no control over. Which makes me wonder what was in control."
The vampire shrugged, a gesture out of place with his stiff regal posture. "You are not bloodkin. I do not know the force that drives you, only that you must conquer it."
Harry found himself running a hand over his chest, sighing. He had a feeling he knew exactly what force it was that was changing him, but until now he had allowed himself to think that those changes were only physical, pattern and color oriented ones. But of course his mind would be affected. It was only self-delusion to think otherwise.
"I had to destroy her. I do not remember even feeling pleasure at the task. Only endless resolve. So strong I could do nothing but take her apart, in increments. As if… as if trying to discover what it was that made her wrong in the first place. And finding nothing concrete, exterminating her pieces methodically."
Brennan hissed in thought, the sound sliding between sharp sapphire teeth. "It was a reaping of her essence, in my eyes. You took her life, then her soul, then her flesh, her bone, her blood. We have seen nothing like it in our lives."
The switch from singular to plural told Harry enough. It was not just Brennan who had never seen the like; but any minds that had ever been his, any lives he had ever taken and tasted of their memories.
"I am sorry." He was, though he was not sorry he had killed her. Only that he had driven the rest of his companions into it with him, especially the werewolves. Many of them had never taken a life. They would not be the same people they had been before this night.
"It is war, and it is done. The Lady was the heart of this disease, and without her it will wither." Brennan moved away, kneeling over one of his vampires, then another. "The wards are down. We will return from here, call aid to help apparate the unconscious."
Sleeping was still unusual for the newly changed vampires, and often reveled in. The fact that all of them slept now would be noted as exactly what it was; forced sleep by none other than the Blind Sorcerer himself. Another notch of fear of himself would be added to the already formidable tally.
Most of the vampires were grateful for the Change and his aid. But to the few who were not, the fear only flared into a deeper hatred.
He needed to remove himself from their presence sooner rather than later. Proximity did not breed favor in his case.
"Alright." Harry watched the elves pop away at Brennan's signal. "What will you tell them when they wake up?"
"I doubt they will know their actions were not their own, unless they have some training in the mind arts. They will be soothed among their own kind. What happens in the heat of battle is often excusable to creatures of the dark."
Werewolves would return to Non Mordere, and vampires to their covens.
And Harry to… home.
Yet he only felt more lost, more out of control. More… broken? No, not broken. He felt as if a piece of himself were missing, and he was left not quite whole.
Pops and swirls of yellow, blasts of air warmer than the night air.
Kraken was with them, yellow light a furious thunderstorm of anxiety.
Harry knew before his high pitched words tripped and fell over themselves into a semblance of sense, that he didn't yet have time to figure himself out.
"Where. Is. He."
"Mrs. Potter, I was really hoping you would tell me."
Hermione sat straight-backed in the Minister's guest chair, glaring at the older man.
"How do you not know? He's after people you've been keeping tabs on for years. And it's not exactly easy for him to hide himself or his magic!"
"Maybe not easy for him, but a walk in the park for the vampires. He never stays in one location long. We've had reports, but they are dotted all over France and Spain."
Another long glare was exchanged.
"He's staying with vampires, and vampires just attacked me in my home. What the hell is going on."
"Another question I would like you to answer for me." Scrimgeour sighed, ran a hand through his wild greying hair. "And the very reason you are sitting in my office with guards at the door and not down in the auror department for this interview is because of whose wife you are. I don't know what he is doing at this moment, but we both can guess his end goal. This thing with the vampires is something that he probably did not know about, or I doubt he would be in another country trying to proactively protect you instead of here."
She knew that. She knew all of that. But she was angry, and didn't feel like being rational.
A knock at the door, and one of the aurors ducked his head inside, eyes darting to her and away again.
"Minister, Mr. Weasley is here to speak with you. He says it is urgent."
Scrimgeour looked baffled, but nodded, while Hermione sat stiff in her chair.
She was expecting the older Weasley patriarch to step through the doors, not a disheveled Ron Weasley, dressed in leather battle robes that had seen one too many repair charms.
The redhead locked eyes on her and seemed to wilt in visible relief. He didn't spare a single glance for the Minister before he began speaking.
"We got her, Hermione. The Lady. Burned her place to the ground." The Minister stood behind his desk with an indrawn breath, but Weasley wasn't done. "I was sent here to tell the Minister, Kraken went to find you when direct porting didn't work, figured you were behind anti-elf wards. He thought you would be at St. Mungo's with your other elf."
Hermione heart was thundering in her chest.
"And… Harry?" She hated her voice for being so soft.
Ron looked uncomfortable, eyes darting towards the Minister for the first time since he had spotted Hermione. "He's with Brennan. Ah, Lord Brennan. I think… they are going to deal with the others. Uh, vampires. In… Romania…"
She was beyond angry, now. She felt as if rage burned inside her chest, consuming even her ability to speak.
"Minister." Hermione began, voice quiet, every syllable enunciated. "Excuse me and Ron. We have things to discuss."
Scrimgeour spoke his wisdom as the door was about to close behind them.
"Don't shoot the messenger, Mrs. Potter."
"I don't know! I swear it. If I knew I would tell you! In a heartbeat!" Ron pleaded in the small conference room an auror had reluctantly given them. "I was… ah, unconscious when they decided where they were going. A lot of us are pretty banged up, I was one of the better off. Well, kind of. I actually died during the main incursion, but the visit with Aunt June was kind of nice."
At Hermione's incredulous stare, Weasley hurried on.
"The others though, the 'wolves especially, went berserk during the final push. It's taking them awhile to let the Moon go. Even the other kin seemed out of it."
"Kin?" Hermione asked, feeling as if she was losing the thread of the interrogation.
"Bloodkin. Name sticks if you stay with them long enough." Weasley sighed. "Look, our team is disbanding. Luxe is, if not dead, dying. This thing with the vampires at your house, it wasn't expected. The way I figure it, there was a spy where we were staying who knew we would be busy last night and passed on the info to the anti-change faction in Romania."
"What bloody faction!?" Hermione exclaimed. "And why didn't I know about it? Why do you know about it and not me?"
She didn't know it was possible for the wizard to look more uncomfortable. She would feel sorry for him if she wasn't so angry. "I made some mates in the coven we stayed with, they told me about a group of vampires focused in Romania who think Harry is going to destroy the vampiric race or some such. They not only object to the change Harry made, but have actually executed some changed vampires visiting the country and sent their heads back to their home covens as a statement. It's bound for civil war among the factions, and unfortunately the kin Harry changes are weaker than they were before, and still outnumbered globally. The outcome of the next skirmish might sway the minds of the rest of the covens on whether they should allow the change at all."
"I thought they wanted this." Hermione wasn't sure how much more she could take. "They practically demanded Harry fix them, and now they decide they want to kill him for managing it?"
"Something like that." Ron admitted. "Though I think it's just a half dozen Lords, who control several hundred bloodkin. Most of the vampires under their control won't have much choice but to obey. You see, it's fascinating, but young unchanged vampires are like bees, they kind of have these hive minds and..."
"I know, I know." Hermione waved the words away, began to pace. "How do I get to Harry?"
"You can't." He looked like he wanted to say anything but those words. "I'm sorry, Hermione. But their covens are… odd. The warding structures, I mean. Kind of reminds me of Hogwarts. No one uninvited is getting in."
"So I get an invitation." Hermione stated.
"You won't even know which coven he is in. They juggled him around in just the couple weeks I was there, changing vampires and just… letting him be seen, I guess. Like a… a symbol. And with the brewing civil war, they'll be keeping it all even more secretive."
Hermione turned away from him, facing a blank wall.
She wanted to demand, to shout, to plead.
She was going to make Harry pay for a long, long time for putting her through this.
"Fine." Hermione moved to the door. "I guess that's it then."
He was supposed to come back after breaking Luxe. He couldn't personally chase down everyone who threatened her.
She needed him home, and she knew he needed her too. Somehow, his continued absence felt more like hiding every day that passed.
"He's different." Ron's voice stopped her in her tracks. "I can't describe it, but… He's different."
Hermione opened the door and looked back at where the redhead sat, shoulders slumped.
"That's why I'm going to find him."
She could have went to her parent's house, or even the Dursley's. Safe behind another set of wards Harry had paid for, with guards outside he had set on rotations. Grimmauld place was going to take days to repair the wards and add improvements to them, even with Ministry help.
She could have, but she didn't. She wouldn't make them more of a target than they already were.
"I can not believe you want to stay here. I can't believe he is letting you stay here. I can't believe I'm letting you stay here!"
Vaughn hissed his complaints, even as Kraken helped Kreacher out of the floo behind them. Lucy followed a second later, luggage floating from the fireplace and its green flames.
"Not what I expected of his house." The witch commented with a glance around. "Then again, I was expecting a dungeon."
"Kraken needs to clean." The small house-elf muttered, pushing Kreacher into a chair that he gladly slumped into. She felt another shiver of worry. Kreacher was showing his age, and not recovering well from the surprise attack. Even his hands had begun to shake.
Another flare from the floo, and out stepped Fallon, her last bag in his hands. "Grimmauld place is secure for now, the temp wards stable. Vaughn and I will keep a rotation around the property."
Hermione fought not to roll her eyes, sharing a glance with Lucy, who smiled. The muggleborn would be staying with her in her new, surprise accommodations, along with the two elves.
It took ten minutes before Hermione could convince the two male guards to go, bickering between themselves the entire time about her staying with the potions master.
But to Hermione it made perfect sense. Who better to protect her from vampires than a man who could slay vampires? Plus he was paranoid, a master in defense against the dark arts, and would no doubt avoid her her entire stay. It would almost be like living alone.
Which, come to think of it, she had never truly done.
Kraken glanced her way and let out a long, nasal sigh. The small being rose and hopped onto the couch beside her, both of them watching as Kreacher settled into a upright restless sleep.
"Will he be alright?" Hermione asked, unable to let the concern go. He simply looked so weak to her eyes.
Kraken was silent for a long moment, before turning bulbous eyes up to her face. "Kreacher needs his House. Soon."
Hermione slowly nodded. She knew of the symbiotic relationship elves dedicated to a House could have, and knew Kreacher in particular had a very strong bond with Grimmauld Place. It might even have been the magical breaching of the wards that hit him so hard rather than the physical blow itself.
"We will be back soon."
Or at least Kreacher would be. She, on the other hand, had bigger plans.
Kraken glanced up at her again, and his ears drooped.
He knew her well.
"I will not fight this war for you." Harry said quietly from his seat, sight focused on his own dark-light hands. "But attacks against my own family will not be tolerated."
He knew he didn't have to say that fact out loud, considering the very reason he was with the vampires the past few weeks.
"The spy who informed the rebellion of our movements was found and dealt with."
Brennan's voice was feral for all its polite annunciation. "We can assign guards to your…"
"I don't need anymore guards!" Harry found himself standing, and then froze in place. At his abrupt movement, several vampires in the room had echoed his movement, flashing away from the table like startled rabbits. He ran a hand through his wild hair and sighed before continuing. "I don't need anymore guards, I need a bloody fortress. A defensible location, wards like your covens use… this problem will not just go away even if you win your damn civil war and squash the romanian faction. There will always be someone who wants to hurt me. I need a safe place."
And none of that was the vampires problem. He paced, deep seated annoyance and frustration threatening to boil over.
"We are willing to send our ward makers to your chosen location, if you wish." Brennan said delicately.
Harry turned to face them, and tried to dampen down any visible emotion. It was obvious how uncomfortable the room was with any sign of upset on his part. "We can discuss that later. This rebellion. I am relatively certain I can convert them all, if I'm close enough. If that is what you wish from me, I am willing. The broken state of your race is... uncomfortable to me." An understatement. He had to forcefully stop himself from fixing the pattern of any vampire he encountered. "But if you decide to settle this with combat, I will be returning to Britain. I've been gone too long as it is."
"We understand. You are our last resort, to put it bluntly, Lord Potter." This came from the coven leader of Spain, his hazel pattern sitting stiffly in a high backed chair. "In fact, your visible return to Britain might lessen the tension here. While you remain with us, it is like… like…"
"Holding a loaded crossbow to their hearts." Brennan finished dryly.
"Then I leave." Harry declared.
And around the room, vampiric patterns inclined their heads in agreement.
Albus heard the door open downstairs.
He had been waiting for it, and still, the slow sound of its motion made his heart sink as dread filled him.
Just as slowly, he heard it close, and the latch click back into place.
He lay in bed, motionless, eyes closed, though he knew what the intruder would see.
The potion bottles laid out casually on end tables, the list of ingredients for dreamless sleep. The clues that an old wizard needed relief from the nightmares of memories long past.
How delicately he had sown the rumors at St. Mungo's of his failing health. How subtle he had been with his trips to the apothecary.
Too delicate? Too subtle?
Footsteps on the stairs, light and timid, every sound a cautious advancement. Fawkes's feathers ruffled where he perched on his stand, the bird sensing even under the sleeping spell a uninvited guest.
Across the room, Albus felt the Wand hum with excitement. It felt a challenger growing near, it already sang its siren song. The white of its length would be glowing in the room lit only by moonlight. It was beautiful. Horrible.
His bedroom door opened. He heard the wizard breathing in tight suppressed gasps.
He wanted to rise. He wanted to kill. He wanted to die. He wanted to be done with the Wand and Its touch forever. He never wanted to let It go.
He lay there, prone, sleeping, while the intruder lifted the wand from its resting place.
He heard that horrible song, and knew what it would be saying in the wizard's mind.
How easy it would be to kill Dumbledore now. How much safer it would be. To be sure. To be certain.
So easy. So necessary.
Under his still fingers, the portkey that would take him from his bedroom grew hot. If the wizard lifted the wand…
But he didn't. As quietly as he had come, the man moved away, and took the Elder Wand with him, a thief in the dark of night.
Albus ached. His body felt colder, his mind older. As the door downstairs opened and shut once more, he wept, because the Wand was loose once more to whisper its insidious evil into the minds of weaker men.
Rufus said slowly, glancing first to the head of the Auror Department, then to the cloaked head of the Department of Mysteries.
"Lord Felix broke into our department and attempted to steal several valuable artifacts. When confronted, he killed two of my researchers in… most disturbing ways." The cloaked witch said in a soft, calm voice. She was once Annabelle Beaufonte. Now, having not seen her face in over a decade, he wondered if that was even who was under the cloak anymore. "He holds a wand of immeasurable power. Our wards fell more to it, than to his own skill."
Robard swore under his breath before leaning forward, rage evident in every motion. "Then he disemboweled the first auror who went down the lifts, and left only the skin of the second on the hallway outside. I haven't seen such callous use of dark magic since the war. He laughed. Laughed! He's gone mad!"
He obviously had gone mad, if it was actually him and not an imposter using polyjuice or illusions. Lord Felix was from a minor family, a rising star in the Wizengamot, and on the few occasions he had encountered the young wizard he had gotten the impression of ambition and conviction. Things every young wizard seemed to have in his experience.
"Are you sure it was him?" Rufus shuffled the papers on his desk as he thought.
"We've went to his residence. It's empty. His family claim they haven't seen him in days. If it's not him, then someone has him captive for this purpose. I need permission to assemble a emergency response team."
"You have it." Rufus said, and made it official with a few sweeps of his quill. Robard left at a fast stomp, his voice already raised to yell as the door closed behind him.
Beaufonte sat perched in her chair, unmoving, until Rufus raised an eyebrow in query.
He heard her sigh, though the dark shadows under her hood hid any expression she might have.
"If you wish for my resignation, I will give it willingly. We have spent years preparing for a possible incursion from certain magical individuals, but we were expecting raw magical manipulation and transfiguration, not a wand itself capable of circumventing warded structures."
In other words, they had been preparing for Potter, and got Felix instead.
"Don't be ridiculous." Rufus flicked a hand through the air. "You're still the best at your job. Now explain to me about this wand."
"I saw it." She whispered, and her voice sent a shiver down his spine. "And I heard it speak to me. I had planned to throw a net over Lord Felix from an alcove. But when I saw the Wand, I found myself instead preparing to kill him. It was a raw, instinctive urge. It spoke in my own voice, more of a song than spoken words, and in holding myself back from it, Felix was able to escape. None of your aurors would have stood a chance against It. I have extensive mental shields, both of my own creation and due to enchanted artifacts I wear. Nothing should have broken through, just as nothing should have broken through the Departments wards."
Rufus leaned back and let himself curse.
The cloaked witch dipped her head in thought. "It does not break them. I misspoke. It overwhelms them. It is… hard to explain. A unique phenomenon, and obviously extremely dark oriented. If you would have my opinion, it is that Lord Felix is not in control of himself. When the aurors interrogate his family, I will guarantee they will say he has not been acting himself for some time, and that he would never be capable of this type of violence. It would take a formidable will, and a great deal of personal power, to not be overwhelmed by this Wand."
"Could you?" Rufus asked musingly, even as he turned her words over in his mind and found them sound.
She was as still as a statue, her long delicate fingers folded together in her robed lap.
"Perhaps. Every moment would be a struggle. I find myself desiring to take it, and I do not trust that desire. It feels false to my nature. I am a Librarian, not a collector. This Wand, in my hand, would never be given to another for study. It would change the foundation of who I am over time."
"All that, from one glance at the thing?" Rufus Scrimgeour looked out his window into the illusion of a country landscape.
"What takes the mouth time to speak and the hands time to learn, the mind knows in moments. It showed me what It was when It called to me."
He waved her musical words away with a frustrated sigh.
"What do you suggest we do then? And don't even say his name. He's not here, and even if he was, I wouldn't put a dark magical artifact capable of violent compulsion in his hands for a million galleons."
"No, that would be most unwise, I agree. Albus Dumbledore is my first choice, though his advanced age and failing health may be an issue. If he is unable or unwilling to try, there is a woman in Norway with the raw potential, and another in Russia. People of that magical calabre tend to either go into isolation, or to the top of their respective country's governments."
Which meant this could be a disaster he would have to go to another country's Ministry to solve. He held in his groan.
"Thank you, Head Beaufonte. I will let you know if things progress."
"Please do." She rose to leave, then paused a step from the door. "You should be made aware that the Veil has grown… disturbed, since the break-in. The corridor outside the Death Chamber is now warded to prevent entry until the artifact can be calmed. We have had three near-fatalities due to its condition."
She left, the door clicking gently behind her, and Rufus stared down at his neat stack of papers.
Some days, he hated being the Minister.
When Harry returned to London and Grimmauld place in the witching hour of night, days after the vampires dismissed him, his home stood empty.
Kraken had already told him Hermione was absent, furious, worried, and hell-bound to find him, ring his neck, then chain him to the house until he begged for her forgiveness.
Even his house-elf had seemed disappointed in him for not going straight to her, and Harry didn't blame him.
He was disappointed in himself.
But it only took a glance down at himself to feel the wrongness of his pattern, the shock of it, the missing pieces.
His future self had said he would know when it was time to go home, and home was his wife, not the silent walkway he passed through in that moment.
The Lady might be dead, Luxe might be fragmented beyond repair, but he wasn't alright. He wasn't… wasn't…
When the color came, it was with the vibrant, shockingly furious red of phoenix flame.
Harry leapt from his slumped position on the couch to face the bird as it appeared with a urgent song, a brown letter clutched in its claws.
Even as it dropped the envelope to the ground, it vanished again.
He stared at the empty space and the brown envelope. He knew of only one person and a quidditch team who had a phoenix, and he doubted a quidditch team would be sending him mail at three a.m in the morning, as soon as he left vampiric wards.
His magic grasped the envelope and opened it, and the simple spell Hermione had taught him long ago began to read the words aloud in a clinical, calm voice.
You should know that two days ago a powerful Wand in my possession was stolen, and its current bearer has already committed several crimes. It has become evident to me that the current Ministry refuses to contact you for aid, and are now in contact with Russia for foreign help. The British Ministry has already lost half a dozen trained combatants in skirmishes with Lord Felix, and it is only a matter of time before this crisis reaches the papers. More people will die.
I regret to say that this Wand is directly responsible for the deaths caused. It is a dark object that compels its bearers to commit increasingly violent actions. I have kept it safe and hidden for many decades, but now I humbly ask you to take up this task. The witch they now contact, Lady Isabeau, is not known for her peacefulness or her strong mental willpower. I worry this situation can turn catastrophic, and I am no longer personally able to retrieve the Wand.
The Aurors have surrounded Lord Felix's personal vacation home in Scotland. He is inside, and every hour he leaves to attack the surrounding forces. None who had dueled him have survived the encounter. Below is the address.
You possess great power, Harry Potter. The Wand will call to you, and you must not listen.
Harry let the letter fall through his fingers as the voice faded into silence.
His skin warmed as the Cloak rose to the surface, it's black-white folds appearing to cover him in its embrace.
There was no question, no debate, no consideration in his mind.
It had to be It. It had to be the Elder Wand. It had to be.
It was as he had told Hermione once, a long time ago.
If the Wand ever came near to him, he could not help but reach out to take it.
The aurors had been in awe of Lady Isabeau when she showed up at the head of a contingent of a dozen Russian Hit Wizards. She had stood tall and regal, her blond hair piled high on her head, her fur lined cloak blood red against the snow of the Scottish highlands in late winter.
Later, they would tell their officials that the battle between her and Lord Felix was like watching a grand hawk sweep down to break the neck of a leaping deer. Swift, brutal, beautiful.
The wizard had not stood a chance, and for a moment, the assembled had cheered.
Her long elegant fingers had reached down to lift a wand of stark bone-white wood, lifting it in a hand oddly clean, the red robes of her sleeves falling back from small delicate wrists.
When she turned to face them, she smiled a cruel smile.
When her men tried to stop her, she slaughtered them one by one, a fox loose among rabbits. The earth trembled under their feet as those capable of it fled.
Robard lay among the dead and dying, cursing his fate and his foolishness, when he saw the air split and the sound of elf teleportation echo through the trampled snow.
The Blind Sorcerer stared down at him with burning green eyes, the weight of his power an oppressive heat in the cold, horrible day, holding hands with a spindly elf who stared around in horror.
"She went mad." Robard felt blood leave his mouth as he spoke the words. "Mad."
That heat went inside him as his mind faded away and then back again into a body remade and whole.
"Tell me everything." Lord Potter said, and the green of his eyes was inside him still, burning, as Robard found himself telling everything, gladly, desperately, anything those eyes wanted he would give.
When they left, leaving some aurors unconscious and healed and others cold and dead and staring into the blue cloudless sky, Robard stood to create an emergency portkey.
The papers were right after all, he thought numbly. Merlin walks among us.
God help us, don't let him go mad too. God help us all.
Albus felt the wards ripple into nothingness.
Fawkes sang a soothing song, gentle, as his feathered head dipped to stare into the doorway as it opened.
Albus knew as soon as the wizard stepped into the room that he did not hold the Wand. There was no siren song, no murderous urges.
"Lady Isabeau has it." The boy said, and Albus still thought of him as a boy though he was a man now, married and more. "She took out nearly twenty men making her escape. She should not have been capable of that. Robard said her power was substantial, but these men were well-trained."
"Magic is a deadly thing, when wielded with no remorse or care for life. It doesn't take great skill to kill." Albus slumped in his chair, so many plans gone awry, so many carefully machinations ruined. "She is one of the strongest witches in the world, but one of the weakest willed among us. She has always gotten whatever she wants. The Minister could not have chosen more poorly."
And Albus had not planned on Potter being gone when the theft occurred, not counted on the Ministry refusing to contact him, nor having to wait for a molting day to pass for Fawkes to get a message to him himself.
Ruined. It was all ruined.
"Tell me honestly." Potter said, his voice bringing Albus back from his ruminations. "Is this the Elder Wand?"
"Its only purpose is to kill." Albus said softly. "That is all it thinks about, all it wants. It is powerful, deadly, sentient. There is no wand It's equal, but It will always bring about the death of its Masters. It does not matter what you call it. It is Death."
There was something odd about the boy. As his depressed, weary fugue began to clear, he felt it against his skin, against his magic.
"You are not dead." Potter insisted.
"I would be, if…" if I hadn't planned on it being stolen.
Something familiar about the feeling in the air, the wrongness, the unnatural sound he couldn't quite place.
"If?" Harry Potter questioned, stepping closer, and Albus stared into green eyes that stared beyond him and inside him and through him.
"You have them." Albus breathed. Of course he knew the boy had the Cloak, he had received a strongly-worded letter stating such from Neville Longbottom years ago. But any hope he had held for finding the Stone had been gone nearly as long, any hope of assembling the three and breaking whatever curse might be present long snuffed out by time and despair. "You have them."
"Or they have me." Potter admitted. He sat in a chair awkwardly. "Will you tell me what you know about the Deathly Hallows?"
Plans change. Pawns grow into knights while castles crumble into rubble. No game of life ever follows the rules.
"With pleasure, my boy. With pleasure."
So he told the story, and felt his old bones ease, his tired soul weep with relief at the sharing of a burden long held alone. His poor lovely sister, dead. His best friend and once lover, murdered in the prison cell he himself had put him in. The Wand and its deadly song. His plans to break the curse. His achievements and his failures. The obsession with the Hallows and their legend, his fruitless research and search for the Stone, the Cloak of Harry's father and the boys possible descent from one of the Peverell brothers. All of it a tangled web of facts and hopes and time.
The slow, unyielding march of time.
And as he talked, his power mapped out the power of the boy across from him, how foreign it felt, how much it echoed the same beat of the Hallows, like a single organism made up of multiple parts.
He began to worry, a little, but it was a worry smaller than his desperate hope that this nightmare might be finished.
"I'll have the Wand." Harry Potter said. "It belongs with me."
He was glad, and horrified, to hear it.
"It kills its Master's." Albus repeated softly. "Even when they are still alive, it's already killed a part of them that's innately human."
"I know." He sounded like he did know, when he said those words. "But it's too late now."
When Albus was once more alone in his house, he puzzled at those words long into the night.
Hermione read the papers. She studied Potions and Pharmaceuticals. She went to school, she talked with Snape, she tended to Kreacher.
She felt at the soul bond inside her, how strong it was, how vital.
She planned revenge. She planned love.
She visited her family, she visited the Weasley twins, she went out to dinner with Lucy and talked about despicable men.
She worried. She shared a cup of tea in the darkest hours of the night with Vaughn, and talked about visiting loved relatives while dead.
Hermione was glad the man's eyes had finally reverted to their normal brown. Her own mocked her with an emerald green she couldn't bear to change, as so many of the ones saved in Diagon now bore proudly.
The Seen, they called themselves, and shared their stories of death.
She approved the blueprints for the new magical factory in London. She spoke with Longbottom about the mass production of magical plants for a new potion-making process.
She did not let time stand still. She did not dwell on the absence in her life.
He would come back to her. He loved her, and she loved him.
He would come back, and she would take him back.
They had plans together.
Vaughn was the one to tell her about the rumors from the Ministry. Master Snape was the one to tell her about Lady Isabeau.
The papers belatedly spoke about a dangerous stolen artifact, of valiant aurors who lost their life attempting to retrieve it.
She knew, with no one having to tell her, where her husband would go, and what he was after.
She packed her bags, set her affairs straight, and bought transportation to Moscow, Vaughn failing to prevent her every step of her determined way, Lucy stalwart at her side.
I'm coming for you, Hermione vowed, and laid one had against her heart. You had better be ready.
Harry had only set foot into the equivalent of Diagon Alley in Moscow for a half hour before people began to take notice.
It was subtle at first. The sideways glances, the increased empty space between him and the masses. He hadn't thought his image would be so well known outside of Britain, but given his last public actions, that had been a false outlook.
The government official met him in front of an apothecary, bottles of potions gleaming white even through the thin purple glass windows.
"Lord Potter, welcome to Volk Liniya. I am Colonel Toporov." The rouge-colored man began with barely accented English. "What brings you to our premier shopping center?"
Harry leaned against his staff, the stones at its top shining with spells in his vision.
A moments pause, as the Colonel's light sparkled and shifted with unknown emotion.
"I see." The wizard finally said. "Perhaps you would come with me?"
Harry gestured with one open hand, and smiled grimly. "Lead the way."
The Russian Ministry of Magic did not allow the general public, and most especially foreign citizens, free access inside its halls. Situated in a historical palace and hidden under layers of privacy wards thick enough to hide any detail of its structure from him, it was more like walking inside of a upside down bowl than entering a building.
It had been Kraken who suggested they let the government come to him, instead of the other way around. He simply hadn't thought it would be quite so easy.
The walk to the Ministry was brisk, the air frigid against any unprotected skin. Before he had taken even five steps with the Colonel he had noticed the people following them. Three behind, three ahead, and more shadowing them above on brooms, weaving in and out of the golden aerial wards.
They didn't speak until they entered the Ministry, leaving behind the winter chill.
"You seem calm." Colonel Toporov remarked.
"I am." Harry said, and it wasn't a lie.
He had a purpose again, a clear target, and it was almost a relief to be able to put off the decision to slink home for a verbal thrashing, and all the deserved guilt associated with it.
"Why?" They turned a corner and entered a doorway. The room was small and boxlike.
Harry sat in one of the two chairs, and leaned his staff against the single table. "Why shouldn't I be?"
"You're not here with your Ministry representatives. You're alone." The Colonel didn't answer his question.
"I am." He was, very much so, as Kraken had reluctantly been sent away to check on Hermione and Kreacher.
"Then you come here independent of their legal protection."
Another statement that was also a question.
Harry sighed at the verbal maneuvers. It was time for blunt truth. He had no time or desire for political machinations.
"I'm here for the Lady Isabeau, or more specifically, the wand that drove her into a murder spree. I plan to retrieve it from her, leave her in your tender care to recover, and return to Great Britain as quickly as possible. It's too cold here, and I don't much like it."
He should be hungry and tired as well as cold, but his body had felt energized the moment Dumbledore's letter had been read to him. He would have the last Hallow.
"This cursed wand has caused us much grief, but is also very intriguing to our Minister. We would pay you handsomely to leave it as well with us."
"No." Harry said bluntly. "It's mine."
"Were you the one it was originally stolen from them? The details have not been shared with us. This reluctance on the part of your Minister has caused rightful concern."
Harry hadn't truly considered that ownership of the wand would come up. He had figured the Russians would want to wash their hands of it. Then again, perhaps Lady Isabeau was not targeting her own government. Yet.
The Wand wouldn't rest for long. She had given in to its will once; it would spur her into action again, and soon, according to Dumbledore.
"It bonds with whomever takes it by force or cunning. When I take it, it will be mine. If you want it once I have it, you will have to take it from me."
The Colonel leaned back. "You are surprisingly frank with us. I shall be frank with you. Are you sure of your ability to control whatever enchantment causes the… lack of control on the bearers part?"
Lack of control meaning murderous urges. Harry knew they deserved an honest answer, and beating around the bush would get him nowhere quickly.
"Yes. I will not tell you why I am certain, but I am."
A moments silence. The Colonel stood and walked to the door, holding it open.
"Very well. You are known to us, Lord Potter. We do not trust you in the presence of our high commanders. I, and my own chosen team, will lead you to Lady Isabeau's manor house."
"She is not a Russian citizen, as many of you know." Colonel Toporov stated to a gathering of six wizards and witches. "But upon capture, she will face trial and imprisonment here for her crimes against this country and its enforcers. We want her alive and well for this trial. Today, joining us, is Lord Potter. It is the will of the Minister that he is allowed to entrap her, after which we shall detain and deliver her to the holding cells here. If he fails, we are to retreat unless ordered differently. We do not engage her while she wields this weapon."
Apparently, they all understood the english being spoken for his benefit, because he saw colored hands jerking with foreign gestures of acknowledgment.
They had wasted no time. He got the distinct impression that his own arrival was considered quite the windfall. They weren't giving him time to change his mind.
Doubtless, they had been trying to figure out how to take down one of their most magically powerful residents without owing another country a favor.
He figured if it was Albus Dumbledore who had gone insane, Britain would be acting much the same if a powerful volunteer showed up to do their dirty work.
The Colonel showed a layout of the house, the plain green sheets of parchment completely unintelligible to him. He laid out a plan of attack, the best routes through the large house, and Harry dutifully listened.
Time seemed to be moving at a snail's pace, until suddenly it was not.
A man ran into the room, shouting in russian.
Nearly as one, those assembled rose to their feet.
Colonel Toporov pushed the parchments aside and turned to face him.
"We go now. She is in the Ministry Gardens. She goes to attack the Minister."
Hermione sat across from the Russian Minister's assistent, eyes narrowed on the slender blonde witch.
"I know he's here. Not only did the elf in my employ say as much..." Kraken nodded quickly at his mention, large ears trembling. "...but I am perfectly capable of using my common sense. He came here for Isabeau, he would have contacted your people, and I want to be taken to him. Now. And while I appreciate all the many, many, people I've talked to today to get this far, I would very much like to be taken to my husband now."
At her back, she heard Vaughn stifle a groan.
Neither the guards or the elf at her side were happy with her. Vaughn had outright threatened to ward her in her room. But after Kraken had been unable to return to Harry, meaning he was behind thick wards of his own, she had taken matters into her own hands.
She was done waiting for him to come to her.
"Madam Potter, please. I simply can not disturb the Minister at this time, and none of my own resources point to his presence here. Perhaps if you would just return to your…"
"No." Hermione folded her arms. "No. I've been here for nearly three hours. He hasn't been seen by us in nearly seven. I'm not going anywhere until I am assured of his health."
Kraken fidgeted at her side. The elf had been beyond startled to find her in Russia at all, let alone in Moscow itself. She hadn't given him time to return to Harry right away, but had insisted he wait while she pack her things and go with him.
And that time, slim as it was, was enough for her husband to manage to get himself behind house-elf proof wards.
She stiffened her shoulders. She could feel that he was close. Very close. She couldn't wait to give him a piece of her…
A screech of sound split the air, even as a rainbow of sparks bloomed in the air.
Nearly as one, both witches leapt to their feet, faces startled, while Lucy and Vaughn had their wands drawn in moments.
"Madam... I'm sorry, I must..." The assistant began, but the door's abrupt opening cut her off.
A wizard stood there, grey hair combed back from a hawkish face.
"Anna, and whoever you are…" Sharp eyes swept over the three foreigners. "Follow me. We've had a breech."
Hermione allowed herself to be led along, mind whirling.
Anna spilled a stream of russian at the older wizard, their meaning going right over her head. Hermione watched as other Ministry employees joined them in the hallways, sharp words and inquiries flying from every direction.
And, somehow, she knew Harry had something to do with this. She shared a grim glance with her companions, and prepared to run.
But not in the same direction everyone else was going.
Harry followed the russian team through confusing hallways and grand arches, multicolored souls streaming in direct opposition to their own progress.
Shouts from the Colonel made employees jump aside and out of their way, but the progress was slow.
He heard it before he saw a thing, loud pops of air and shrieks of sound like discharging electricity, the trademark cacophony of a magical battle. He felt the heavy charge in the air, a static that rose the hairs on his arms and made him consider the effects of atoms separating in ways they did not wish to.
The air itself, ionized and charged with so much magic it felt like walking through a miasma of power he could open his mouth and taste.
There were no more people in the hallways as they stepped out into a large square garden area. Its green trees and lawn so vibrant and alive, a direct contrast to the people dying upon their trampled surface.
Lady Isabeau might not have been the smartest witch of her power level, but as water always flows downhill, she had followed the path of least resistance.
"The Minister and his aids will be locked down in the office on the opposite side of this area. We have to give them time to escape through the boltholes..."
Sharp orders from the Colonel, as his team spread out with grim determination.
He saw gestures of religion and of nerves, quick hand gestures and bowed heads.
They expected to die.
His body trembled, the blood rushing in his ears, his skin heating with the presence of the Cloak as it wrapped itself around him and spoke for the first time during Harry's possession of it.
Lady Isabeau, a towering soul of vibrant gold and silver, whirled to face them, her brown robes rippling in a wind she created.
She would die, if she let the wand continue to drive her. Use up all her magical reserve and fall under the wands of the Ministry's defenders. But she would take with her every opponent she faced, feeding the starving Thing she held raised in her hand.
"Let me." Harry bit out through clenched teeth, hoping the aurors would listen, relieved when a few stepped back.
Or perhaps they were pushed back, because his own power was rising, called out from where he kept it contained and coiled in the depths of himself, rising like emerald green wings striated with black and white.
The Stone turned, the Cloak burned, the Wand hissed.
Lady Isabeau screamed in rage.
Golden shields bloomed at his back as the Wand flared with spells that Harry snatched from the air and flung aside.
He began to walk forward, carefully across the littered ground, the torn purple soil and the clumps of uprooted green still clinging to life, twisting all the magic that spilled towards him into the air or the ground or the stone around him, diverting its energy with his own, not so much of a block as a guiding hand.
He heard the stone walls shatter. Heard statues tumble and break, air whine and split, soil break and groan. He smelled the ozone of magic and green living things and the coppery tang of blood soaking into the loam.
The air should have been cold, but he felt none of its wintery bite. He was only white heat and black fire in motion.
Lady Isabeau paused, panting, her life a fragile bird flapping at the cage of her swaying body, trapped by the very thing that gave her so much strength.
And into the silence, the Wand sang its song.
It had been kept hidden, starving, for too long. It had been denied everything it wanted and needed, and now, now, it would take everything it was given and more.
It was the missing piece he had barely known he was missing. He had been broken all along, since the moment he first wrapped the Cloak around himself and slept in its embrace. The Wand sang and sang, its long length white and dark, stars within a night sky, a pattern of pyramids endlessly looping through itself, changing and never changing at all.
How beautiful its voice sounded to his ears. Where the Cloak was warmth and strength, and the Stone a thing of love and cold despair, the Wand had a higher, feminine touch of ruthless, lustful death. It burned brighter than any of the other Hallows, its drive stronger, its purpose clearer.
He would have to kill Lady Isabeau, it sang. If he ever wanted to be its Master, he would need to give it what it wanted, what it needed. It was the death of all things, of life's swiftness of blood, of the blooming of hope or love or even anger, of all the things that made a person. It was a rock in a ocean that all drowning men broke themselves against in hope of salvation.
Lady Isabeau looked at him with pleading golden eyes, her silver face a mask of despair he couldn't see but could feel, tangible in the air with the scent of tears and the sound of gasping sobs.
"Regardez! Regardez ce que cela m'a fait faire!"
Look. Look what it made me do. The Wand echoed her words and subtly changed their inflection, made it say new things.
Look what I made her do. You don't deserve me.
They were standing too close, when Lady Isabeau held the sharp tip of the wand to his heart. He stared down at its black-white surface, eyes closed and body calm.
He wrapped his hand around the wood even as she cast her spell and its sharp pain ripped through him, killing the things it touched.
He felt as if he stood outside himself, watching it happen, as the emerald green inside himself began to slow into the stillness of death. And he should be dying with it.
But he was no longer merely a green soul housed in the purest white of a physical form.
Brother, the Stone whispered as the Wands power splashed against it and broke. Brother, the Cloak chided, as it's black-white presence flowed through his skin and underneath it, dark stars inside his veins, falling like meteors through the quiet green sky of his body.
His heart did not beat, until Harry made it beat, bringing himself back to life from stillness as easily as he had brought others back into life. For a fleeting second he could almost see his parents again, their souls entwined and melding together, two halves of a whole, fading away in the distance as he took his first breath in a new, different life.
His loose hand tightened around the wand and jerked it from Lady Isabeau's fingers, the witch falling limp to the ground as soon as contact was broken.
The Wand snarled its song. It bade him to kill her, to kill the cautiously approaching Ministry soldiers, to slaughter the people in the hallways, to release them all from the pain of life and into the sweet, peaceful embrace of Death.
Good for them, good for us, best for everyone. No suffering, no pain, nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
For a moment that seemed stretched into eternity, he considered it, considered the chaotic rainbow where souls seemed to be born and spit out into a world to drudge through life and then return faded and worn and broken only to repeat the process over and over, a cycle with no end and no hope and no purpose. No continuity.
What was the point of living, really.
Abstractly, he saw the pyramids of the Wand sinking inside himself like a parasitic worm, snapping at its brothers and licking at his mind with its murderous poison, trying to break him with the force of its self.
But he had already been broken, and the Wand fit into himself like the last piece of a horrible living puzzle.
And when that piece finally snapped into place, the song cut off mid word, and time returned to its slow march of entropy.
Lady Isabeau weeped on the torn green grass, her silver and gold colors a shattered mass of horror.
He grasped her soul in his hands and did not give her the death she pleaded for. He took the broken pieces of her and put them back together again in a way he had never considered, bringing clarity to grief, reason to pain, healing to the open wounds of her mind.
Then he left her scarred, her silver-gold soul marbled with the memories of what horrible things she had done.
But not broken by them.
The Colonel picked his way carefully across the torn ground towards them, as carefully as one would approach a wounded bear.
"Do you maintain your sanity, Lord Potter?" He asked stalwartly, even as his fellows hovered at the edge of the hallway behind him.
"I won't kill you." Harry answered the true question, and looked down at the Wand in his hand.
Pyramids of ebony in a ashen sky, pyramids he could now see joining the sharply edged cones and prisms he had gotten familiar with inside his skin.
The three things that made up the Veil, the entryway straight into the chaos of death where souls were born. He was no longer human. He was no longer certain what he was.
The three Hallows whispered his unasked question, a whisper that ran along his spine and through his blood and under his skin.
He shuddered, and hoped they wouldn't begin speaking to him regularly. The reminder that he was not alone inside himself was not pleasant.
There was a commotion at the hallway, russian voices rising in angry argument.
He turned with a frown just as a heartbreakingly familiar voice cut through the cacophony.
"He's my d-d-damn husband and if you don't let me through I will have him take what's left of your stubborn arses when I'm done with you and turn them into diamond statues to send home to your families as a bloody testament to what happens when you don't get out of my bloody way!"
Colors split as people stumbled back, whether at the threat or the force of her voice or the outrage in her sparkling form as she jumped into what used to be the Minister's pristine winter garden.
Blue-Violet, so familiar, so beautiful, the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, the piercing light of the other half of his soul, the bond between them slender thin and as unbreakable as the Hallows themselves.
His vision caught on those scars, spider thin jagged edges that lingered at the edges of her soul, not deep, not wide, but there, there as they had not been there when he left, and they held him in place as she raised one hand to push him hard enough that he stumbled back.
Then she wrapped both her arms around him and cried even as she raged with muffled words against his chest that he couldn't comprehend.
He hesitantly brought his own arms around her, held her, breathed in her scent and her magic and her light. Saw the black-white of the Wand against her back and closed his eyes to Look into her soft warmth and assure himself she was physically unharmed.
They held each other that way until a strong voice commanded their attention.