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We now return you to your regularly scheduled fanfic.
and the Resurrection Game
Harry Potter and all associated characters and situations are the property of J.K. Rowling. I make no claim to ownership.
Chapter 4: Happy Birthday, Harry and Jim!
The Front Lawn of Potter Manor
30 July 1994
As Jim Potter surveyed the house that had been his home for just shy of fourteen years, his stomach churned with mixed emotions. For the first time in his life, Jim was on this property as a guest.
"No, not a guest," he thought ruefully. "I'm here as the entertainment!"
Despite all the many reversals the Potter family had suffered over the last few months, Jim Potter's birthday remained a national holiday, and the Jim Potter Birthday Gala™ was still one of the most important charity events of the year. Only now, the charitable trust that had been set up in Jim's name was no longer under the control of the Potter family but rather a Board of Directors picked by Harry Black. And the newly appointed Board had already begun making changes, one of which was that this year's Gala would be held on July 30 since it was a Saturday. Another was that the event and the grounds were open to the public (though the house itself was locked up tight) instead of invitation-only. Security for the event was stringent, but Jim was still uncomfortable to see so many people on the grounds of his family's former estate that his parents would never have allowed inside the wards if they'd still been in charge of things.
"At least none of them can get into the house," the birthday boy muttered to himself as Lord Parkinson, a known Death Eater, strolled by nonchalantly.
In addition to its usual offering to St. Mungo's, this year's gala was also set to raise funds for the ongoing repairs to the Ministry complex needed after Pettigrew and Rookwood's dramatic escape and also to provide financial support to the families of those who were killed or seriously cursed by the Death Eaters in the same incident. Both of Jim's parents were also in attendance, but this year, James wasn't the host. Rather, he was part of the security.
Unlike Jim's more recent birthdays, few of his friends were on hand. The Weasleys were all here—in fact, so far this year, the Weasleys had spent more time at Potter Manor than Jim himself—but for the most part, they were helping Molly in the kitchen with preparing the lavish catering Harry had ordered. The only exception was Percy, who was in attendance with his new boss, Barty Crouch, the Director of International Magical Cooperation.
As for Jim himself, he spend most of the day sitting at a table next to a stack of books: Jim Potter and the Mystery of the Aztec Warrior, the latest entry in the Boy-Who-Lived series. Apparently, as part of this year's celebration, Jim would spend several hours today personally autographing copies for anyone willing to donate 20 galleons to the cause.
"I feel like Gilderoy Bloody Lockhart," he thought angrily.
Then, to the boy's shock (and barely restrained outrage), the next person in line was Lucius Malfoy, who casually dropped 100 galleons in exchange for five books.
"Early Christmas presents for dear friends," the former Death Eater said with a smirk.
Jim fought down the urge to respond in a way that might cause a scene, but as he dutifully autographed the books, he could barely keep his hands from shaking in anger. And then, to add to the boy's amazement, after Malfoy banished his books back to Malfoy Manor with a wave of his wand, he moved off to meet with Arthur Weasley and chatted amiably with his former mortal enemy (and James's boss!) for several minutes as if they were old friends.
Not for the first time in recent months, Jim wondered when the whole world had gone mad.
Earlier that morning, the boy had participated in his usual birthday press conference. Most of the questions had been fielded by Lady Augusta Longbottom, the Chair of the charity's Board of Directors, and she'd handled the press conference quite ably. Jim only had to answer a few questions, mainly because Augusta had laid out strict ground rules that forbade any inquiries about Peter Pettigrew.
That said, Jim had been surprised when Rita Skeeter had asked some pointed questions about his current living arrangements as he and his family clearly no longer resided at the manor house. Caught off guard, he stammered out a brief statement that due to "security concerns," he was now living in a Muggle neighborhood in the home that formerly housed the family of his aunt, Petunia Dursley, before Augusta quickly interrupted to change the subject.
Rita then asked where Jim's brother, the new Lord Wilkes, was since he and Jim shared a birthday. Augusta answered that Harry Black was in France as his birthday coincided with his first dueling competition. She also reminded the press that Harry had won his divisional championship two nights before. He and his friends, which included Augusta's grandson, would celebrate Harry's 14th birthday privately while enjoying the sights of Paris.
She was somewhat evasive on what specific sights they would be enjoying.
The Birthday Gala ended an hour after sunset with the only part of the day that Jim found enjoyable. Apparently, at Harry's recommendation, the Board contracted with the Weasley Twins to provide a fireworks show. Of course, shooting small fireworks out of one's wand was child's play. Literally so, as most young wizards and witches generated pyrotechnics the very first time they picked up a wand. But the idea of a Muggle-style fireworks show complete with massive multicolored explosions that lit up the whole night sky was something new to the Purebloods in attendance, and they were awestruck by the specially enchanted fireworks that could manifest as flaming dragons, winged stallions, and other magical flying beasts before one colossal explosion that spelled out the words "HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JIM POTTER!"
As the crowd registered its approval with thunderous applause, Molly Weasley leaned in close to her precocious twins.
"How much did the Board pay you to put on this show again?" she asked just loud enough for the two boys to hear over the spectacle.
"About 50 galleons," Fred answered.
"And how much did it cost you to produce all this?" she asked while crooking her eyebrow.
George grinned. "Just under 20," he answered cheekily.
Molly sighed contentedly and patted both twins on the shoulder. "Good boys," she said with a warm smile.
Later that night, Rita Skeeter penned several owl posts that she sealed into secure envelopes before sending them off into the night. The envelopes were addressed to a half-dozen different people, but the letters inside all conveyed the same message.
"Urgent! Get me any information you can on the status and location of a Muggle named Petunia Dursley."
Meanwhile, in France…
The world class dueling championship finished up that same night, and Harry found the caliber of competition both astonishing and daunting. For novice and open class duelists, there was a long list of permissible spells. For the world class competitors, there was instead a rather short list of spells that were forbidden. Harry recognized Fiendfyre and the three Unforgivables, but the other banned spells were too obscure for him to have even heard of.
In a change of format, the world class used Bulgarian rules instead of French rules. Among other differences, this meant that instead of a rectangular dueling platform, the duel would take place in a large circular zone that gave the competitors more freedom of movement, and dodging played a much bigger role in the duelists' tactics. The dueling area was also filled with stone columns to provide the duelists with material for Transfiguration attacks, and all the duelists made spectacular use of them.
None of the duels approached the ferocity or ingenuity shown by Voldemort in the memories that Alastor Moody had shown Harry the previous December, but some of them were definitely on par with Bellatrix Lestrange during her "Miss Demeanor" days. Within seconds of each match's commencement, the dueling area was quickly filled with wild animals of all kinds (some of which were made of fire!), flashing bolts of lightning, flying blades that pursued duelists who attempted to dodge, and even stranger attacks. And to make things even more interesting, Apparation was legal in world class duels, and many of the combatants spent their duels constantly Apparating around the arena to get the jump on their opponents. The eventual winner was the hometown favorite, an older French wizard named Julian Montmorancy whose victory marked his 17th international championship win.
Harry thought the name sounded vaguely familiar, and Blaise filled him in on the family's history. The House of Montmorancy was an old French Pureblood house known for its affinity for the Dark Arts. Most notably, the infamous Gilles de Rais was a member of the family in the 15th century. Once a patron of Joan of Arc in his younger days, de Rais apparently went mad in his old age and was executed for dark magic and other unspecified crimes. Blaise was evasive, but the fact that Muggle historians considered him to be a prolific serial killer said enough. The scandal ruined the family's reputation, and all the remaining Montmorancys expatriated to Britain during the French Revolution.
During the Grindelwald Conflict, the remaining Montmorancy siblings, Alphonse and Vivienne, returned to France along with Alphonse's son Julian (then still a teenager but already gifted with a wand), where they played a vital role in organizing the French Magical underground. After the war, the family remained in France in hopes of restoring honor to the name Montmerancy. The international fame accorded to Julian after decades of success on the dueling court aided greatly them in that goal.
After the tournament, there was yet another reception, and in an ironic turn of affairs, now Harry was the starstruck fan seeking an autograph from a dueling champion. To Harry's surprise, Montmorancy recognized him at once due to the boy's own impressive victory two nights earlier. Harry and Julian talked about dueling strategy for several minutes before the older wizard was pulled away to talk to other fans but not before saying cryptically that he looked forward to talking to Harry again.
"And sooner than you might think!" he said with a wink.
The Next Morning …
Countess Zabini's group enjoyed an early breakfast delivered to the dining area of her suite before most of the group set out for Euro Disneyland. Of the young people, only Justin had visited the amusement park previously; not even Blaise had had the opportunity before now. The five teens would be escorted through the park with Archie Goodwin, Gunther Hagrid, and Bobby Lattimer as their chaperones, while the Countess, Sirius, and the Finch-Fletchleys spent a more leisurely morning on a nearby golf course. Sirius initially expressed some unhappiness at not spending Harry's birthday with his godson, but after a lurid description from Archie about what Muggle rollercoasters were like, he reluctantly agreed to let the kids have their fun (but only after a stern instruction to his "bodyguard" to keep a close eye on the boys). The Countess Zabini reassured Harry that she would look after the boy's godfather.
While the group made their last-minute preparations, Blaise pulled his mother aside.
"You're going to … look after Sirius Black, the second-richest wizard in Britain?" Blaise asked quietly but anxiously.
"He's my guest, Passerotto," the Countess said placidly. "And to be fair, he's also a very handsome man."
"Hush now," she interrupted firmly. "You know as well as I that … I am not afforded a choice in these matters."
Blaise grimaced. "I know … but I still don't have to like it."
At half-past nine, the five boys and their three chaperones exited Gunther's van at a special VIP entrance to the park. A very special entrance, one limited exclusively to magical guests. To Harry's chagrin, he and the others were required to surrender their wands, which were sealed away in special lockers along with both Harry and Blaise's portkeys. In exchange, they were each given special Disney pendants to wear.
"Now, we 'ave had no problems with wizarding guests since zee park first opened two years ago," said the staff member (a French squib, apparently) who collected their magical property.
"But just in case, if anything out of zee ordinary 'appens and you feel unsafe, just grasp zat pendant firmly and say 'when you wish upon a star.' That will immediately notify zee park's magical personnel, and zey will Apparate in at a nearby but discreet location to address whatever zee problem is. Needless to say, zee park is warded against Apparation and Portkeys for anyone who isn't given special clearance for it."
As Harry slipped the pendant around his neck and then under his shirt, the park official continued.
"In addition to letting you summon park personnel, zee pendant also functions as a low-level Notice-Me-Not Charm. As long as you are not actively drawing attention to yourself, it will obscure references to magic and other casual comments zat might show up in your conversations with one another. Nevertheless, we ask you to be mindful of zee Statute of Secrecy at all times."
The park official then asked each of the boys a list of questions, mainly how much schooling they had each had, both magical and Muggle; when the last time was that any of them had caused accidental magic; and did any of them have any allergies they were aware of towards Muggle food. Then, the squib opened a door and allowed the group entrance into "the Happiest Place on Earth."
And the Happiest Place on Earth quickly lived up to its reputation. Justin had been here once before, of course, and both Blaise and Bobby were at least familiar with the concept of an amusement park. But Harry, Theo, and Neville had never experienced anything like it. Even Regulus got into the act by purchasing a "Goofy" hat for Sirius, much to Harry's amusement. Gunther did his best to maintain a stern expression, but the effect was rather ruined by his cargo shorts and his rather tight-fitting black Polo shirt that proclaimed his loyalty to the Juventus Football Club.
The day thus far had been thoroughly enjoyable, although Justin nearly exhausted himself explaining every single cultural reference that the wizard-raised boys found baffling.
"But why does Indiana Jones want to go into a Temple of Peril?!" Neville had asked in bafflement. "It's perilous! It's right there in the name!"
Despite the Longbottom heir's concerns, he ended up enjoying the park's newest rollercoaster just as much as his friends. So much so that the group rode it a total of three times, despite Archie and Gunther's increasing nausea. It was not until the third ride, just after lunch, that IT happened.
For the third time, Harry's party made its way to the front of the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril ride, but this time, there was only room for six members of their group in the carts.
"You boys go on ahead," Archie said, with Gunther by his side. "We'll be right behind you. Stay with Bobby and listen to him until we join you."
After promising to do so, the five Fourth Years and their just-graduated chaperone boarded the carts. Then, as Harry was being locked into a seat next to Neville near the front of the ride, he felt a sudden twinge on the side of his forehead as if to warn of the onset of a sudden headache. And to his surprise, he also noticed the park employee who helped to lock him into his seat giving him a strange look. And a rather angry look as well.
Almost as angry as the look given by the man in the cart in front of Harry who glared at him furiously and then put his arm tightly around his daughter's shoulders as if suddenly afraid the boy meant to do her harm.
Before Harry could react to this, the ride commenced. But the young Slytherin decidedly did not enjoy this third trip through Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril, as within seconds, he was nearly overcome with an agonizing headache. Neville looked over to him with some concern only to let out a sudden scream of his own as the track hit an inversion and the boys were suddenly upside down. But Harry could barely notice or even open his eyes due to the pain from his head.
"No!" Harry suddenly realized in shock. "Not my head! It's coming from my scar!"
Less than twenty seconds later, the cart was pulling into the ride's conclusion, and Neville turned back to his friend.
"Harry, what's wrong? Why were you—BLOODY HELL!"
Neville's frightened expletive punched through the haze of Harry's pain and he pulled his hand away to look at the other boy … only for his eyes to widen in shock when he realized his hand was covered in blood!
"Harry!" Neville exclaimed. "Your scar! It's bleeding!"
By that point, the ride attendant had made his way to Harry and Neville's cart to unlock it. "Merde!" the man said under his breath as he noticed Harry's bloody face. "What 'as … 'appened … to ... you?"
The Muggle's voice trailed off only to be replaced with what Harry could only describe as an animalistic growl. He turned to look up at the park employee and gasped. The man's eyes had gone completely red! Before Harry could move, the attendant suddenly grabbed him by the neck and began choking him. With a shocked cry, Neville rose and tried to shove the man away, but he only succeeded in causing him to pull back and drag Harry along even as he continued throttling the life out of the boy.
Neville and the other boys tried to follow and help their friend, but they were quickly batted aside by the man who'd been sitting in front of Harry and by a few other Muggles … all of whom immediately attacked Harry as well even as they screamed hysterically at him! And all of them were conspicuous by their glowing red eyes!
"Monstre! Tuez le vite! Tuez le Freak!"
Immediately, Theo and Neville jumped onto the backs of several Muggles who were kicking their friend in the ribs even as the first man was still trying to choke the life out of him.
Meanwhile, over by the cart, a panicked Blaise was fumbling with his Euro Disney pendant. "There's no place like home! There's no place like home!"
"Wrong children's film, mate!" Justin shouted as he pulled out his own pendant and muttered "when you wish upon a star."
Meanwhile, Bobby, in a surprisingly Gryffindorish move, jumped over the cart and hurled himself into the fray to body slam himself against the Muggle attacking Harry. While rugby had never been the Muggleborn's favorite sport, that didn't mean he was bad at it, and the Hufflepuff successfully knocked the man away from a gasping Harry Black.
Undeterred, another of the gang of crimson-eyed Muggles struck Bobby from behind and knocked him to the ground. Then, they shoved the other children to one side so that they could grab Harry together and lift him as one up over their heads.
"Le tunnel! Les montagnes russes! Tuez-le Freak! Tuez-le Freak!"
The Muggles carried the struggling and screaming boy towards the entryway through which the returning carts emerged. Over the cries of the Muggles, which had now become a chant—"Tuez le Freak! Tuez le Freak!"—Harry could hear the roar of the approaching coaster that carried Regulus and Gunther as it drew nearer. Finally, with a triumphant roar, the Muggles bodily hurled Harry down the tunnel directly into the path of the oncoming roller coaster. And while it was already slowing down as it approached the end of its journey, the cart was still moving fast enough to kill someone lying prone on the tracks ahead.
Gunther cursed loudly and then gripped the bar that locked him and Archie inside the cart. With a groan of twisted metal, the bar ripped free from the cart and was sent crashing off to the side.
"Go Goodwin!" Gunther yelled even as he practically hurled the wizard over the top of the cart and in Harry's general direction. Then, the half-troll twisted around, braced himself as best he could, and slammed his left foot into the tracks to one side of the ride. There was the sudden sound of wood splintering and metal clanging, followed by a chorus of screams from the people sitting behind Gunther as the whole cart assembly began to shake violently and threatened to derail.
"So much for the Statute of Bloody Secrecy," the half-troll muttered even as he grimaced under the pain of shattering railroad ties with his feet.
Meanwhile, Regulus landed in a crouch but immediately broke into a run (narrowly staying ahead of the rollercoaster that Gunther was struggling to slow down). He darted forward, scooped up Harry in his arms, and raced down the track towards safety. Behind him, there was a loud groan of metal bending followed by sparks (and even louder screaming) as Gunther's cart jumped its tracks, bringing Harry and Friends' adventures with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril to a close for the day.
Up ahead, Reg heard the cracks of Apparation as the park's magical employees arrived to clean up the scene, repair the damage to the ride, and Obliviate the Muggles (including the Muggles who had just tried to kill Harry but had no idea why). But Reg's only concern was for his god-nephew who was now unconscious … and whose face was covered not just in blood, but also in a thick black ichor that dripped from the boy's scar.
Le Bureau des Affaires Sans-Magie
Two hours later
As Gaudrelle and Pitray reviewed their notes of the "incident" that happened at Euro Disney earlier that afternoon, the two investigators were startled when Leflaive, the third wizard on their squad, stormed into the room bearing a furious expression.
"Well, I suppose that was the shortest investigation in the history of the French Ministry!" he growled.
"We're off the case?" young Gaudrelle asked in surprise.
"There is no case!" Leflaive spat. "The whole thing is being written off as an accident. Apparently, the rollercoaster just spontaneously jumped its tracks, which panicked some of the Sans-Magie, and in the confusion, a child visiting the park—who just happened to be not just a British wizard but somehow a member of their landed aristocracy—was hurt. And let nothing more be said about it! Pfft! Damned aristos!"
"Honestly, Leflaive," said the longsuffering Pitray, the eldest and most cynical of the three, "I told you something like this would probably happen. In addition to the mysterious Lord Wilkes, two of the boy's associates are also Heirs to families that sit on the British Wizen… thingamabob. And a third is the son of the Countess Zabini."
Leflaive snorted contemptuously. "As if I need a reminder that the Black Widow has her fingers on this somehow. I'm surprised none of those who were hurt had recently married the bitch."
The investigator's rant was suddenly interrupted by a delicate cough from nearby. All three men turned and were surprised that a fourth man had entered the office so quietly that none of them had noticed. He was a middle-aged wizard with slick black hair, and he wore a dapper gray suit that would have looked absolutely impeccable to a Muggle from 1956.
"I do apologize for interrupting," the man said mildly. "But I couldn't help but overhear your distress as a consequence of you bellowing about it at the top of your lungs. Can I assume, Inspecteur Leflaive, that you are upset about your superiors' decisions regarding the unpleasantness today at that amusement park?"
He chuckled amiably while glancing around at the other agents. "Pfft. As if Disneyland could ever be more unpleasant to a true Frenchman, n'est-ce pas?"
Leflaive ignored the man's cultural criticism. "You can assume whatever you like! It's no concern of yours!"
"Actually, mon ami, I think you'll find that I've taken a great interest in these affairs."
"Oh?" said Gaudrelle as he rose from his chair. "And who are you exactly?"
"But of course, gentlemen," the man said while reaching into his jacket pocket. "My credentials."
Gaudrell glanced at the identity card that the man handed over and immediately paled. He handed it over to Leflaive, whose earlier anger quickly melted away to be replaced by a sudden nervousness. The surprisingly plain card identified the man as Gabriel Delacour of Le Bureau de L'Inconnu.
Magical France's answer to the Department of Mysteries.
Leflaive coughed and adjusted his collar.
"Chevalier Delacour, please forgive my outburst. I certainly meant no disrespect…"
"Non, non, speak no more about it, Inspecteur Leflaive!" the Unspeakable said with an easy grin. "I understand what it's like to suffer political interference in the course of one's work. I certainly would never hold against you your frustrations of being denied the chance to do your jobs as you see fit. But there are … unusual circumstances at play in this instance. As I'm sure my presence here and now obviously indicates."
Pitray rose and nodded his head respectfully at the man who he now knew to be incredibly influential and powerful … and dangerous. "Naturally, Chevalier, we are more than eager to assist L'Inconnu in whatever capacity you require."
He looked around the room. "Aren't we, boys?" he added firmly. Both Leflaive and Gaudrelle immediately stammered their agreement.
"I am delighted to hear you say so!" Delacour exclaimed jovially. "Happily though, there are only a few quick matters to attend to, and then, I can let you fine officers return to your normal duties."
Instantly, Delacour's wand seemed to appear from nowhere, and with a single swish, every scrap of paper in the office that pertained to the Euro Disney investigation flew into the Unspeakable's offhand and then immediately burst into flames. Almost instantly, nothing was left but ash.
"Excellent," the man said. "Now only one thing remains. I'm sure I don't need to explain what's going to happen next, do I, mes amis?"
The three investigators looked at one another helplessly.
"No, Chevalier," said Leflaive dejectedly.
"Good. Explanations bore me. OBLIVIATE."
Thirty seconds later, Gabriel Delacour, Chevalier de l'Inconnu, was gone, and none of the three men he'd left behind had any recollection of his existence, let alone their conversation. Likewise, none of the three had any recollection of their brief investigation into the Euro Disney incident nor even that any such incident had occurred. And on a semi-related note, Agent Leflaive now had a strong aversion to using the word 'bitch' to refer to foreign dignitaries or indeed in any context whatsoever. Such boorishness was inappropriate for a member of the French Ministry of Magic.
And besides, one never knows when a relative of the bitch in question might be around to hear.
Meanwhile, back at the Hotel St. Germain
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the Disney wizards healed Harry of his minor injuries and cleaned the blood from his face. Then, he and his party were quickly ushered out of the park and returned to their hotel rooms with instructions to remain there until investigators from the French Ministry came by to interview them all.
"I need to contact Sirius," said Archie Goodwin. Harry looked at his "god-uncle" sharply.
"He needs to know what happened," the Metamorphmagus added firmly. "He is your godfather."
"Which would mean more if I weren't already emancipated," Harry snapped. "You know what his health is like. If he finds out someone tried to kill me with a group of possessed Muggles while he was out golfing, who knows what it will do to him."
At that, a still-shaken Blaise Zabini looked away as Harry continued.
"I don't want to tell him anything more than we have to until we get back to London. If nothing else, let's wait until after these … investigators arrive."
"The investigators won't be an issue," said Blaise quietly. "I, uh, made a call."
"What sort of call?" young Lattimer asked suspiciously.
"Let it go, Bobby," said Justin drily. "He's a Zabini. He knows people."
"Whatever," Harry muttered. "I'm tired. I'm gonna lay down for a while. If investigators show up, somebody wake me. If you hear for sure that Blaise's 'people' have already made this go away … well, you can wake me up for that as well."
The boy exited the main room while Archie stared after him, his expression dark.
Once in his bedroom, Harry paused in front of the mirror hanging over the dresser. He leaned forward and examined his reflection. Despite the healing magic used on him earlier, Harry could see a faint redness in the rough outline of human hands, the marks of the park employee who'd gone mad first and tried to strangle him to death. The man with the red eyes.
The Slytherin reached up and gently rubbed his scar. Harry had no memories of it ever hurting very much at all, let alone in the agonizing way it had earlier.
"Well," he thought. "I used to get migraines when I was in First Year DADA with Quirrell ... and Voldemort. But even that didn't hurt as much as whatever hit me today."
He wondered for a moment if there might be a connection, though. He'd gotten the scar as a footnote to Voldemort's failed attack on his family in 1981, a boring, jagged, and meaningless scar inflicted by falling debris to parody his more famous brother's more famous scar. Still, he had gotten it that same night. And then, he remembered the eyes of those Muggles who'd tried to kill him!
"They looked just like the red eyes Voldemort had in all those memories Moody let me watch! And the red eyes that Ron Weasley had while Riddle's diary-horcrux was possessing him!"
Harry looked again at the scar on his reflection's face. He rarely thought about it, or at least tried not to. Suddenly, the boy wondered if that had been a mistake on his part. He leaned in to truly study his scar for the first time since he'd begun working to master his natural Legilimency. His eyes narrowed in concentration.
"There is something about it! Or about the shape of it at least. It's not as … jagged as I'd always thought. And it's familiar too. Something I've seen a lot recently. Something I should know. But what? It's … it's right there! On the tip of my…!"
KNOCK-KNOCK. "Harry, it's Archie. Can I come in? I have some news."
Distracted by the knock, Harry moved over to the door, all thoughts of his scar forgotten for now. He opened the door to let Archie in, but once inside, the Metamorphagus shook his head to transition back to the face of Regulus Black.
"Well?" Harry asked tiredly.
"Mr. Zabini reports that there will be no investigation. Apparently, his 'people' have persuaded the Ministry to adopt the cover-story that everything that happened was the result of a malfunction in the rollercoaster itself. The physical assault that took place against you … never happened."
Reg grimaced in annoyance. "Also, Mr. Zabini still refuses to provide any information about who his mysterious 'people' are and how much they know about us."
He shook his head and then tilted it to study Harry's demeanor.
"Harry, what really happened back at the park?"
The boy shrugged vacantly and then turned away.
"Come on, Harry! I was close enough to see … those Muggles had unnaturally red eyes. They were clearly possessed and magically compelled to attack you. And I think you have some idea of by whom or by what. Now work with me here. If nothing else, I need to know so that I can tell Sirius."
"Tell him nothing beyond the story the French Ministry's released. There was a minor accident on a rollercoaster. I suffered some very minor injuries that were healed within minutes, but we had to cut the day short."
"Uh-huh. So we should say nothing about you being physically assaulted and nearly killed by possessed Muggles with glowing red eyes?!"
Harry winced. He'd forgotten until just now that Regulus had been a Death Eater trainee before he defected and fled the country before he could be marked. Still, Regulus had met the Dark Lord. He'd obviously noticed that the possessed Muggles had glowing red eyes. But would he make the connection?
"I'll tell both you and him everything I know when we're back home, Reg. I want Professor Snape and Healer Tonks there to answer any questions. They've both been studying this for a while."
"This … what, Harry? This has happened before?"
The boy shook his head. "Never like this. There is something about me … about my scar specifically, I think … that causes Muggles to dislike me. Or it did, anyway. But in the past, it was never this … obvious."
"Yes," Reg said archly. "I would hardly call that fiasco subtle. So Snape and Tonks already know. Anyone else?"
"Artemus Podmore and Hestia Jones. Also, Theo, Neville, and Hermione Granger." Harry grimaced suddenly. "And maybe Blaise and his mother. They both seem excessively interested in me, so it's possible they know about my … condition."
Regulus looked at the boy sadly. He'd viewed himself as Harry's mentor from his time as Gilderoy Lockhart. But Harry was truly a Black now in every way that mattered under both Magic and the law. He wasn't just Sirius's godson. He was family.
"I'll hold off on telling Sirius so long as you promise that you will tell him soon. If nothing else, this should give him the impetus to take his Oath to the Wizengamot as soon as possible so that we can finally access Chevenoir and Grandfather's library. If this is a curse of any kind, I'm sure we can find an answer there."
"Thank you," Harry said simply.
Reg studied the boy for a moment. "Come here. I want to show you something. A little trick that might be helpful."
He maneuvered Harry to face the mirror again. Then, he patiently talked the boy through the process of making the bruises around his throat slowly disappear through Metamorphmagery.
"You can heal injuries this way?" the boy asked in surprise.
"It works best on minor cosmetic injuries. You're better off using a healing spell or a potion for nearly anything else. But I only know field-medic level healing Charms, and we don't have any Bruise Removal Paste. And as a Metamorphmagus, you should be able to heal bruises like this one just by thinking about it."
Harry nodded but said nothing as he remembered grimly all those minor cuts and bruises from his time at 4 Privet Drive that always seemed to heal so fast. A sign of his "freakishness" according to the Dursleys. When he'd been little, he'd wondered once if they might be nicer to him if he could just suffer in pain long enough.
A few hours later, Sirius, the Countess, and Justin's parents finally returned. True to his word, Regulus said nothing to Sirius about the incident, though from their reactions, Harry was sure that Blaise had told the Countess, and he suspected that Justin had said something of it to his father. For their part, both the Muggles seemed as friendly towards Harry as before the trip to Euro Disney, but Sir Malcolm subtly changed the topic when Sirius's barrage of questions about what the park was like made all the boys visibly uncomfortable.
Later still, when the group was headed out for Harry's celebratory birthday dinner, Sir Malcolm pulled Harry off to one side. The boy tensed reflexively at the thought of being alone with a Muggle, with any Muggle. But Sir Malcolm showed no signs of any hostility. If anything, he was sad and contrite.
"Harry," he said apologetically. "Justin told me the basics of what happened. I just wanted to say how sorry I am. I would never have sent you off to someplace so packed with Muggles if I'd known anything like that could happen!"
"It's alright, Sir Malcolm," Harry replied after glancing around to see if anyone was near. "Neither of us could have expected it. And most of the day was great! I'm really grateful for the chance to go. Just, you know, except for that bit at the end."
He laughed bitterly. "Our first two trips through the Temple of Peril were brilliant. Maybe that's what I get for trying to face the peril a third time."
Malcolm didn't laugh. Instead, he eyed the boy speculatively. "The third time. Tell me, Harry. Can you think of anything different about that third ride compared to the first two?"
Harry shook his head slowly, but then, an idea struck him. His eyes widened, and he swallowed.
"On the last ride, the one where everything went wrong, all us kids were in one cart along with Bobby Lattimer, who's just out of school himself. The two adults were behind us in a separate car. We didn't have our wands. And the first person to attack me did so by trying to choke me, which also prevented me from using the pendant they gave us to call for wizarding aid."
Malcolm went pale as the implications struck him as well.
"In the future, Lord Wilkes," he said gravely. "I think it would be best if you did not meet with Barbara or myself—or indeed, any Muggles—without an adult wizard you trust on hand as well."
Harry nodded slowly as the truth became clear. Whatever lay hidden in his scar ("Bob," he'd taken to calling it during one of his rare frivolous phases), it had not been dormant all these months.
It had simply learned to wait for a good time to strike.
Meanwhile, back at 4 Privet Drive …
In retrospect, Jim concluded that it had been a good thing the Official Jim Potter Birthday Gala™ had been scheduled for Saturday. For the first time in years, Jim's actual birthday was a private celebration for just family. Molly Weasley had sent a massive birthday cake with fourteen candles to 4 Privet Drive, along with a hand-knitted jumper with a "JP" monogram. Both were delivered by Ron who spent a few hours at Privet Drive visiting his friend before heading home.
But the best present was the last thing Ron had to deliver, which he did with all due ceremony and pomp: an invitation for Jim to sit with the Weasleys at the final match of the Quidditch World Cup. Apparently, Arthur had done some favor for Ludo Bagman, and in recompense, the head of the Department of Magical Games and Sports had provided finals tickets for the whole family. But as it turned out, Percy would be attending the games anyway in his capacity as Barty Crouch's new personal assistant, and Molly had unexpectedly gotten a contract to cater Lucius Malfoy's tent, so they ended up with extra tickets.
Other personal birthday gifts (as opposed to the formal gifts he'd been given the day before that ultimately went to charity) had been coming in all week via owl. While 4 Privet Drive was heavily warded to conceal the Potter family's presence from the larger magical community, those wards allowed the passage of some owl posts provided certain conditions were met. Most importantly, the sender had to be someone on a first-name basis with James, Lily, or Jim, and the package itself could not contain any dark or harmful magic. In fact, one of the wards (an obscure and highly intuitive one that Lily discovered and applied) actually blocked owl posts that were sent with any harmful intent whatsoever, even of a nonmagical nature. The only gifts that came to the house by owls were from trusted friends.
The whole Quidditch team pitched in for new gear for their Seeker, since his family's diminished circumstances meant he wouldn't be able to buy new gear himself. Hermione, naturally, had sent a book, one which appeared to be about some obscure magical creature Jim had never heard of.
"Mum? What's a hobbit?" he asked.
Lily explained that The Hobbit was a work of Muggle fiction but one she felt sure her son would enjoy despite its wildly inaccurate depictions of goblins, dwarves, and trolls.
Padma Patil sent a moving picture depicting a panoramic view of Shamballa, along with a letter expressing her regret that Jim couldn't return for a second year. She mentioned in passing how much she'd enjoyed their Wu Xi Do sparring sessions and that she hoped to continue them when they returned to Hogwarts, a sentiment that made his stomach flutter for some reason. He was distracted from examining that odd feeling by the postscript to Padma's letter:
"By the way, do you know what happened to Brother Chandra? Or Mr. Lupin, I suppose? I thought he was coming back here for the summer, but no one's seen him."
Jim frowned at that. He'd not heard from Remus Lupin since leaving Hogwarts weeks earlier. And Godric, the owl he'd sent to Shamballa with a letter for the man, wouldn't have even reached the magical city by now, much less returned with any reply. Jim figured it would be a very angry owl that would come back in another week or so if Remus wasn't even in Shamballa to receive his letter.
Jim was even more confused when an unfamiliar owl arrived later that afternoon bearing a package with the initials RJL scrawled across the front. Quickly, Jim tore open the package to reveal yet another book, this one with a blank cover. There was a note inside:
Happy Birthday, Jim!
I thought you might find this interesting reading. I'd recommend against letting anyone know you have it, however. Please don't owl me with any questions, as they probably wouldn't be the sort of questions you would want to be seen asking. I'll be in touch soon.
"What's that?" asked James.
Jim turned to the first page and his eyes widened at the title. He cleared his throat.
"It's from Remus. It's about … the history of Shamballa."
"Hmm. Sounds interesting," James replied in a tone that indicated he would probably not be asking to borrow the book for his own entertainment.
Soon after, Jim left for his own bedroom where he sat down at his desk to open the book again. The title was, in fact, Animagery: The Deeper Mysteries, and it appeared to be someone's bound notes on the topic of becoming an Animagus. Jim smiled, relieved to know that, wherever Remus was, he was obviously safe and had the freedom to write and send packages, even if Jim was not to reply. Whatever Remus was up to, Jim was sure he'd hear all about it when school started back up. And with a little luck, Jim would even be able to show him a completed and controlled transformation by then.
As Jim opened the Animagery book and began to read, it didn't occur to him that he'd never really had a chance to see Remus's handwriting and so would not have been able to recognize a forgery.
Nor did he consider that there might be someone else who had once been on a first-name basis with his family, who had no personal desire to harm Jim, who was an Animagus himself, and who had a strong interest in seeing Jim Potter follow in his footsteps.
That night, back in Paris …
After dinner, Harry's group returned to the St. Germain for one last night. Sir Malcolm had arranged for his private jet to fly from Marseilles to Paris, and he and his party were scheduled to leave out of De Gaulle Airport the next morning. Meanwhile, the Countess, Blaise, and Gunther would return to Marseilles by Portkey later in the day, while Bobby Lattimer would drive Sirius back to London by car.
Just before 10:00, Harry retired to his room but was surprised to find a note on his pillow:
Meet me on the balcony at midnight. It's time.
At the appointed hour, Harry silently left his room and made his way to the balcony that overlooked the Parisian skyline. The Eiffel Tower stood illuminated in the distance. The Countess Zabini was waiting for him, wearing evening casual clothes with a bag hanging from her shoulder. Harry was glad he hadn't changed into pajamas yet.
"Buona sera, Lord Wilkes," she said.
"And to you, Countess."
"Please, call me Serena. We are now social peers, after all."
"… Harry, then. You wished to meet with me now?"
"I did. There is much we must discuss, Harry. But not here. Tell me, have you ever Side-Apparated before?"
"I have. Though I am … reluctant to let anyone just spirit me away in the middle of the night without telling anyone after the day I've already had. Where is it you wish to take me?"
"To perhaps the one place in all the world where we can truly talk without fear of being overheard. I do not blame you for your caution, Harry. You've indeed had a trying day. And, well, I am a Zabini and am fully aware of my own reputation. We sometimes cannot help but engender distrust in others. It is the price we pay for our secrets, the most important of which I am now willing to share with you. Will you trust me now, long enough for me to tell you things that you need to know?"
Harry studied the witch for a long time. While his Legilimency gave him no reason to fear the Countess, he was certain that she was a skilled Occlumens, and he had learned from both Snape and Scrimgeour that his deductive genius could be fooled with sufficient skill or training. But in the end, it didn't matter. He'd come this far, and he was certain the woman did have answers for him. Probably not answers he would want to hear, and likely answers to questions he'd not even known to ask, but there would still be answers.
He reached out and took Serena Zabini's arm.
One nauseatingly unpleasant Apparation later, Harry was surprised to find himself in a graveyard.
"Where are we?" he asked guardedly, his wand already out.
"Cimetière du Père-Lachaise," Serena answered. "Near the old Lestrange Mausoleum."
"Ooookay," Harry said. "I suppose that answer will make more sense when you tell me why we are here."
"We are here, Harry Black, because in 1927, Gellert Grindelwald did something extraordinary here. Extraordinarily evil, but also extraordinary from a magical perspective. And in response, Nicolas Flamel did something equally extraordinary, again magically speaking. The aftereffects of that night affected this area and especially the Mausoleum in ways that make it beneficial for our use tonight."
As the older witch spoke, she led Harry through the graveyard and into the Lestrange Mausoleum itself. Almost immediately, Harry felt uncomfortable as he advanced. He also noticed that his scar itched slightly but showed no signs of its former rampage. Once inside, Serena produced a small electric torch from her bag and turned it on to light the way. Harry's eyes narrowed, and he pulled out his own wand.
There was no effect. Serena glanced his way.
"As a result of the powerful and unnatural magics unleashed that night in 1927, this area is, for lack of a better word, magic-proof. No wand-based magic is possible in this place."
Harry crooked an eyebrow. "What about potions?"
She paused in surprise. "An interesting question. Do you know, I honestly don't think anyone has ever attempted to bring a cauldron here to test it."
The two continued on until at last they entered a large chamber. It was circular, with a domed ceiling and many rows of stone benches facing down onto a round open area. The first thing Harry noticed was that every bit of stone in here had been bleached to a pale bluish white that gave off an eerie luminescent glow. Harry's discomfort deepened, and his hand clenched tighter on his wand even though in this place it felt like a dead stick in his hand.
The second thing Harry noticed was that in the center of the circular stage stood a large box, roughly 10x10 meters, that seemed to be coated in pure gold. There was a single door on one side that resembled a bank vault door.
"What is that supposed to be?" the Slytherin asked.
"We call it the Vault," she replied. "It really needs no other name."
Without another word, Serena strode up to the Vault's door before reaching into her purse to produce a small knife. Harry took a step back instinctively, but Serena ignored him. Instead, she used the knife to cut her own hand before smearing the blood over the door. After a second, the bloodstain glowed a bright red before fading away. Then, the wheel on the door spun itself, and the door slowly opened.
"So what are you hiding in there?" Harry asked suspiciously.
"A table and two chairs," Serena replied. "Shall we enter?"
The witch led the way, with Harry following closely behind. To his surprise, the interior was much bigger than the outside, at least thirty feet across. In the center, there was indeed a circular table with a high-back chair on either side and a chandelier hanging above. Once Harry was inside, Serena reached behind him to pull the Vault's door shut.
"LUMOS," intoned the Countess as she flicked her wand, and the chandelier lit itself.
For his part, Harry suddenly felt his connection with his wand once more as soon as the door closed. He confirmed this by successfully casting a Lumos of his own.
"So," he said. "We're in a room where magic works that's in the middle of a building where magic doesn't work. This seems … overcomplicated as far as security measures go."
"That would depend upon who or what you want to stop from eavesdropping, Harry. The Vault's exterior is coated with a thin layer of orichalcum that is 65% pure. It cost multiple fortunes and has been used by my family and our associates for decades for our most important divinations and our most sensitive discussions. It is a room that no magic known to us can penetrate, standing in the middle of a dead zone where no magic can function. If there is anything further that can be done to shield our discussions from the Enemy, we do not know what it is."
Harry blinked. "And who is this Enemy?"
"Someone who is always watching, always listening, and always waiting for a chance to act. But first things first. My Blaise says you have become proficient at maintaining multiple mind-streams, yes?"
"I am … proficient," said Harry who assumed that opening seven independent minds if only for a few seconds met that standard.
"Have you begun a study of 'the Hidden Mind' technique?"
The boy frowned. He had dabbled with that technique but not to a large degree. The Hidden Mind referred to the practice of locking away important information in a secondary persona that would lie dormant until activated. He'd made use of it the previous January to meet with the Headmaster while wearing a personality designed to be ignorant of Sirius Black's innocence and his rescue from Azkaban.
"I am familiar with the technique," he replied.
"Good," Serena said as she took a seat at the table and pulled a deck of Tarot cards from her handbag. "I recommend you open a secondary mind right now to retain all memories of our discussions. Do not allow your primary mind to recall our discussions when you leave this place. When we're done here, I will provide a recommended list of triggers for remembering when the time is right."
Harry crooked an eyebrow. "Is all this really necessary? Who are you so afraid of?"
"Not who, but what, Harry. The enemy is Fate, and Fate is already interested enough in you. So we will speak plainly here and then hide our discussions away in the deeper recesses of our minds. So long as we display no conscious memories on the outside, Fate will not take steps to take those memories from us. Or perhaps do worse to us."
The boy looked around while taking his own seat. "But we're safe in here? From … Fate?!"
"We are in a room that no magic can penetrate, hidden in the center of an area in which no magic can function. If more than this is required to hide us from Fate's attention, then doing so is impossible, and we would be better off in accepting our doom. I decline to do so. The motto of House Zabini is "Finche respiriamo, speriamo." Or "While we breathe, we hope."
She passed the cards over to Harry.
"Now, we shall dispense with tea leaves this time and stick to more reliable techniques. Shuffle the cards until you feel comfortable and pass them back to me."
After a moment's hesitation, Harry did as the witch asked. When he returned the deck, she cut the cards and then began laying out a spread on the table. The spread design was more complicated than the simple 3x3 spread that the Countess had used two years earlier to read Harry's fortune on his 12th birthday, but he knew enough to notice the oddity of the cards themselves. Even though he'd shuffled the cards thoroughly, all sixteen of the cards came up as Major Arcana, which might have been a neat card trick or possibly just a harbinger of doom.
Serena studied the spread carefully before giving Harry a piercing gaze. "You are now the Prince of Slytherin, I take it?"
Harry stiffened in his chair. "Before I say anything else, tell me what you know about that."
"I know everything and nothing, I'm afraid."
Quickly, she recited the Potter Prophecy in its entirety before revealing to Harry how she knew it. What no Potter had ever had even suspected until now was that an ancestor of hers named Armand Zabini had overheard the Prophecy in its entirety and revealed it to the elders of his family. And they, in turn, undertook the mission of guarding the Prophecy and averting the apocalypse it foretold as a sacred family trust.
Harry snorted. "The Potters tried to do the same thing. It didn't work out too well for them."
Serena shook her head. "The Potters did all that they were capable of doing. But their approach was too direct. They focused entirely on preventing the heralding lines from coming to pass, and that was always a futile effort. No matter what the Potter family has done over the last two centuries to prevent it, when the Time of the Dark God was at hand, the Two who should be as One would be set against each other in hatred, and the Last Potter would rise as the Prince of Slytherin. I do not know precisely what "the Prince of Slytherin" means beyond, obviously, a position of power within Slytherin House. I know that Blaise knows but is bound from revealing the secret to me."
She gestured towards the cards.
"I also know that you are the first Potter to be sorted into Slytherin since the Prophecy's utterance. You are the first Potter in all that time to have even one sibling let alone be born as a pair of twins who have a famously antagonistic relationship. And the cards I have just drawn to represent your recent past—the Magician, the Emperor, the Sun, the World, and the Fool—tell me that you have indeed come into your power and achieved the goals you had set for yourself when last I read your cards. Except that the Fool also tells me that you realized too late that achieving those goals might have been a terrible mistake. I suspect the fulfillment of an apocalyptic prophecy would fit that description."
Harry glared at the woman in consternation. "You know, if you really wanted to avert this prophecy, perhaps a good first step might have been telling me about it before it was too late."
Serena shook her head. "One cannot simply avert a True Prophecy by direct action. Your father's efforts to do so almost certainly led directly to its fulfillment, and I suspect your own efforts to avert the Prophecy once you learned of it were similarly unsuccessful. After all, from what Blaise told me, you only revealed your sudden knowledge of the Prophecy to him on the morning of March 26, but by the evening of March 28, that part of the Prophecy was fulfilled, presumably by your ascension. Blaise, of course, had to speak carefully due to the potency of the secrecy spells that guard the identity of the Prince of Slytherin, but he was able to communicate that much to me. Am I right in guessing you thought you'd found a way to avert the Prophecy which only accelerated it instead?"
The boy glared bitterly at her. On one hand, he was still embarrassed that what he'd thought would be a decisive and irrevocable action to reject the Hydra Throne instead proved to the Hydra his worthiness to claim it. On the other hand, he was annoyed to realize the extent to which Blaise had been spying on him all this time, even to the point of revealing his status as Prince no matter how indirectly. Serena picked up on that part of his mood.
"For whatever it's worth, Harry, let me assure you of one thing. My son Blaise is intensely loyal to you. Like the rest of my extended family, he feels a duty to fight against the Prophecy, but unless he concludes that doing so threatens our family, he will follow you wherever your path leads."
"So why didn't he do anything to stop me from becoming Prince?"
"Because he would have failed and possibly died in the attempt. Remember what I told you before. True Prophecies want to come true. Once we suspected that you might be the one to trigger the Prophecy, I directed him to do nothing to interfere with you doing so, lest Fate notice him … and take action against him."
"Destiny is paid for in blood," Harry said softly, repeating the portentous words that Serena had said to him in the summer of 1992.
"Indeed. The final two lines of the Prophecy are what students of Divination refer to as heralding lines. Your becoming the Prince of Slytherin heralded the commencement of the rest of the Prophecy at its appointed time. When the time was right, the Last Potter would become the Prince of Slytherin. And if that time is now, then anyone who tried to prevent you rising as Prince would suffer for it."
Harry started rubbing his temples. "So what's the point? Do you people want the Prophecy to come true?!"
"Whether we want such a thing is irrelevant. The Prophecy will come true. Our goal is to do whatever we can to ensure that the outcome is as favorable as possible."
"The only two outcomes I see are a choice between 'Oblivion and Damnation.' Which is your preference?"
"Oblivion, of course."
Harry's eyes bulged at how casually the Countess expressed her preference for the ending of the world. For the first time since meeting the witch, the words "death cult" popped unbidden into his head.
"Would you care to expand on that?" he asked coolly.
"Gladly. But first, let us look back at the rest of your cards for context. Turning to the immediate future, we have the Wheel of Fortune inverted, Justice inverted, Strength, the Hanged Man, and the Lovers inverted. A dangerous conflict draws near, one you will be drawn into unfairly and against your will. And while you will succeed in the challenges you face, even those successes may redound to the benefit of your enemies."
She paused and glanced back at the cards. "Oh, and you will also experience complications of a romantic nature which will threaten to distract you from more important concerns."
Harry sniffed. "That's never been an issue for me before."
"You've never been a 14-year-old multimillionaire celebrity before either," Serena replied with a smirk. "Frankly, if my Blaise were a girl, I'd have tried matchmaking by now."
But as she turned back to the cards, her expression grew more pensive.
"Looking farther ahead, we find the Devil, the Hierophant inverted, the Hermit inverted, and the Tower. A great evil rising against you, likely the same Dark Wizard who will one day become a Dark God. Perhaps Voldemort, perhaps someone else. You must be prepared for either possibility. You will experience both the loss of a powerful guardian figure and a time of forced seclusion spent cut off from your allies and forced to rely solely on yourself. And ultimately, a time of destruction and catastrophe."
Finally, she pointed to the last two cards. "All of which lead to the end of your journey: Death and Judgment."
"I'm still not seeing any positive outcomes," Harry said blandly.
"On the contrary," she answered. "I find these cards quite reassuring. You see, your journey does not end with Death. That is the penultimate card. After Death comes Judgment. Truthfully, if I had to choose between Oblivion and Damnation to the Dark God's Hell, I would choose the former because nothingness is preferable to eternal torment."
She tapped the Judgment card with a perfectly manicured finger. "But I believe that the presence of the Judgment card falling after the Death card implies a way through Oblivion to whatever lies beyond it. That some of us will be judged worthy of some fate other than mere Oblivion. That there is something else waiting for us after the End of All Things."
"You believe? So you don't have any proof of that?"
The witch smiled. "As I told you, my family's motto is 'While we breathe, we hope.' And the last time we discussed matters of True Prophecy, I told you that such prophecies are expressions of something that Magic itself wants to take place. As you note, by the plain language of the Prophecy, our future is a choice between Oblivion and Damnation. But I do not believe that Magic desires our destruction but is simply undecided on how to go about it. The Prophecy must offer some possible means of salvation or else it was pointless for it to be made. There must be some way, some impossible needle that can yet be threaded, to allow at least some of us to survive. And given the language of the Prophecy, I do not believe we are meant to choose the Dark God as our path to that survival."
"So you're going with Death instead?"
She nodded. "Yes, Harry. Because of those two, Death is the only one who might fight for us."
As Harry's eyes narrowed, he felt the familiar sensation of a kaleidoscope locking into place.
"You're talking about the Deathly Hallows. You believe the legend that whoever reunites them becomes Master of Death."
"Yes, for to truly master anything is to become one with that thing in every way that matters. Tell me, Harry. Do you know the Tale of the Three Brothers?"
"From Beedle the Bard? I've read it. Three brothers cross a river using magic. That apparently annoys Death so much that he gives them the Hallows, which promptly leads to the death of two of them."
Serena nodded. "And what about the Tale of the Three Sisters?"
Harry blinked. "Three … Sisters?"
"A legend from ancient China. When Death came in the form of the Yama King to claim the soul of Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor and China's first wizard-king, his three daughters met the death god first to offer him hospitality. They danced and sang for him and offered him rice wine and sticky buns laced with opium. Eventually, the Yama King fell asleep, and the three daughters stole his robe, his staff, and his ring, which they then presented to their father on his death bed. Huangdi used the talismans to restore himself to his former vitality and then to ascend to claim the Throne of Heaven as the August Personage of Jade."
"Or if you don't like that one, how about the tale of Hermes Trismegistos—Hermes "Thrice-Blessed"—who earned his place among the gods of Olympus by sneaking into Hades and stealing Death's robe, scepter, and crown. Or Loki, who stole Hela's cloak, mace, and jeweled amulet in order to blackmail her into restoring Balder to life. Or Ishtar, who became queen of the Annunaki after defeating the death goddess Erishkagel and stripping her of her dress, her scepter, and the jewel that rested on her forehead. Or any of a dozen other stories I could recite from around the world, most of which have been erased from Muggle literature and most wizarding literature by order of the ICW."
"Hold on!" Harry exclaimed. "Are all of those Deathly Hallows?"
The Countess shrugged. "The true nature of the Hallows remains a mystery. Perhaps the differing descriptions are due to the tales changing over time, or perhaps the Hallows themselves have the power to change their own nature. Certainly, they have some ability to hide themselves given their history. We suspect that the Potter Invisibility Cloak is actually Death's Cloak, handed down to the Potters centuries ago when the last daughter of House Peverell married into the Potter family. Her ancestor centuries removed was Ignotus Peverell, and he and his two siblings were reputed to be the Three Brothers by some theorists."
The Countess sniffed disdainfully. "Obviously James Potter has never considered that, or else he would not let his son carry it about to use for pranks just as his own father once gifted it to him for equally frivolous purposes. But the tales that still exist—often in books the ICW deems illegal to own—all have remarkable similarities. Three items. One a wooden stick or staff of some kind, one a stone of some sort usually set in jewelry, and one a flowing garment. All given by or taken from an avatar of Death. And all granting power over Death to whoever acquires all three."
"And why does the ICW censor this? Are they afraid of wizards going after the Hallows?"
"Yes. If there is any truth to the legend of the Hallows, the Confederation certainly would consider them too dangerous to roam free. And it doesn't help that a number of infamous dark wizards were known to quest for the Hallows, most recently Grindelwald who claimed to be Master of the Elder Wand."
"Was he?" Harry asked suspiciously.
"Very possibly, though how Albus Dumbledore could have defeated him in one-on-one combat is a mystery if he truly held the Death Stick as his personal wand. To be honest, my greatest fear has always been that the ICW claimed the wand after his defeat and then either destroyed it or hid it away, in which case this entire line of inquiry has been a waste of my family's time for nearly 200 years."
Harry sat for a moment to think over what the Countess had told him so far.
"If you think Voldemort is the Dark God, I'm not the one who's supposed to defeat him. That's Jim Potter's job."
"Perhaps. That you have left the House of Potter might change things. It is possible that, having played your part by rising as Prince, you have completed your role in the Potter Prophecy. I suspect that there is another Prophecy that governs the relationship between Jim Potter and Voldemort, but I do not know its contents."
"Well I do," Harry thought. "But I'm not ready to share it even if I weren't under oaths."
"How do you explain me being the Last Potter?" he asked instead.
"That is a simple matter," Serena said while waving her hand distractedly. "My personal theory is that you and your brother were simply switched at birth."
"From what I have learned, your parents were not expecting twins, and neither were the Healers at the time of your birth. It would have been a simple mistake for the Mediwitch who took custody of you both immediately after you were born to mislabel you both, with the younger twin identified as the older one and vice versa."
Harry's eyes widened. The possibility that someone made a mistake and that he was never the Potter Heir at all had not occurred to him.
"Such a mistake would be typical of the subtle manipulations Fate can engineer in bringing about a True Prophecy," she continued. "Consider how James Potter has treated you for most of your life. Now imagine that you were identified as the younger son and thus without any of the protections guaranteed to an Heir. Potter could have expelled you from the family in infancy and certainly would have immediately after your Sorting."
Harry sat still for a long time as he absorbed Serena's theory. It sounded plausible, but for some reason, Harry didn't think it sounded right. He shook his head and moved on to another matter.
"Since we're sharing information, I suppose I should ask: Are you aware that Sybill Trelawney has recently made another Prophecy?"
This time, it was Serena's turn to display shock, and Harry recited to her the Prophecy that Hermione had related to him, the one that led him to his misfired attempt to disclaim the Prince of Slytherin role.
"Until at last, the Question is asked, and the Decision is made: Our story has been told before. But will it ever be told again?" the Countess said repeating the final lines slowly. "Interessante."
"That's not the word I'd use, but okay," said Harry. "Now what does it mean?"
"Well," she said slowly, "if my theory is correct, then this Prophecy ties in with the first Potter Prophecy. The Question refers to the choice between Damnation and Oblivion, and the Decision refers to the fact that the Prince of Slytherin will make it."
And with that, she tapped the Judgment card again. Harry frowned.
"But the first Prophecy doesn't guarantee that Death will defeat the Dark God, only that theirs will be the last battle! Even assuming this refers to me, do you have any reason to think that I can win against a Dark God other than … hope? What powers does the Master of Death have anyway?"
"We … do not know," Serena said reluctantly. "And to be honest, even this latest Prophecy, even though it addresses the Prince of Slytherin, does not clearly state that the Prince will also be the Decider."
"So other than what you've read in my cards tonight, you don't really have any guarantees that it's my job to defeat the Dark God and usher you lot to some happy afterlife."
"Again, no. There are no guarantees with a True Prophecy. As you found out firsthand, they are invariably uttered at the right time and in front of the right people to trigger a response. No True Prophecy is ever made to someone who will simply shrug and forget about it. The most recent Prophecy was passed to you, and you immediately reacted in a way that caused the first Potter Prophecy to come to pass. I do not know that you will be the one to master Death. But you are high on my family's list of potential candidates."
"Uh-huh," Harry said. "And just how many people are on your list of potentials?"
Serena looked suddenly bashful. "Seventeen at the moment."
"… Seventeen?!" the boy exclaimed.
"Reuniting the Hallows is not the only way to figuratively become Death within the terms of the Potter Prophecy. It is, in my opinion, the most likely way of doing so, and your connection to the Potter Invisibility Cloak seems auspicious. But still, the Hallows are not the only way. Other members of my family pursue other leads."
"Uh-huh. And how many candidates for Dark God are on your list."
"Fifty-three," she replied, causing Harry to cough in surprise. "Though at the moment, the probability that the Dark God is either You-Know-Who or someone connected to him is so high that he dominates most of our attention."
He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his face.
"So … what do I do with all this?" he finally asked.
"Do?" she responded in surprise. "Do … nothing. If it is your destiny to reunite the Hallows and become the Master of Death, then in time, the Hallows will come to you. In the meantime, you are still young. Study your lessons. Continue to hone your skills. Enjoy your time with friends and family. Restore the name of Wilkes to respectability. And, I suppose, do whatever it is that the Prince of Slytherin is supposed to be doing."
The boy gave a sour expression. "It is really not in my nature to sit back and wait for things to happen."
"Of course not," Serena said with a laugh. "Fate would never have selected you if it were!"
By 2:00 a.m., Harry was back in his room and finally in bed. He was not quite asleep yet but rather was in a light meditative state. He and the Countess had talked for another half hour before Harry locked away the most important secrets in a secondary mind with a half-dozen events that could cause his primary mind to remember everything. One of those events was entering a meditative state right on the verge of sleep which would allow him to psychically talk with himself. Apparently (according to the Countess, anyway), Fate took no notice of what forbidden thoughts occurred in dreams, and so long as Harry didn't wake up fully, he could enter a sleep-cycle just light enough to let him think about things without drawing "unhealthy attention."
When he asked for an explanation of what that meant, the Countess would only say that one of her "associates" was forced to lock away important knowledge about him to avoid some type of supernatural attack she'd never experienced before but which she feared might have been fatal.
"What sort of knowledge about me?" Harry asked nervously.
"The fact that the scar on your head is in the form of a Sowilo rune and was almost certainly placed there deliberately, either by someone as part of a ritual or by something as a manifestation of your latent power and of Fate's interest in you."
After that, Harry suddenly lost interest in further discussion about his scar and obeyed Serena's recommendation that he lock that bit of knowledge as deeply as possible and share it with no one else. While he nominally trusted Serena Zabini, he was still too shaken by the afternoon's events to confront any more strangeness associated with his scar. Also, he still didn't know anything about the rest of her "associates" (who he still thought might better be termed "cultists"), but he wondered how many of them might assume the worst if they found out he had an evil scar in the shape of the Norse rune of power and that it was apparently trying to kill him.
Just before he finally fell asleep, Harry had one last thought that seemed barely relevant compared to the cosmic import of his meeting with the Countess, but still it stuck with him.
"I totally forgot to ask what Fleur Delacour's deal was!" he thought to himself in annoyance, "Dammit! She better not be my romantic complication!"
Next: There will be a brief hiatus as I will be spending November working on Strangers In Boston as my NaNoWriMo project. The next chapter is scheduled for December 15 when Harry's summer break continues, most likely with Harry and Sirius's Oaths of Unity and, at long last, a meeting with the late unlamented Erasmus Wilkes.
AN1: Check out the Sinister Man's web presence on the POS wiki, the POS TV Tropes page, and my Discord server (through which you can see advance previews of this story as it is begin written). Also, the Sinister Man would be profoundly grateful if you checked out my P*****n page and supported my original fiction. Patronage is not necessary to get the free POS previews via Discord.
AN2 (What the Sinister Man is reading):
The Boy Who Said No by ChoCedric, in which the Dursleys are a loving family to Harry, but Petunia still hates the wizarding world for taking away her sister and getting her killed, with the end result that Harry rejects his Hogwarts letter. It goes over about as well as you'd expect.
AN3: Special thanks to my Discord editors: Anne-athema Codexm Banshee, BlueWater5, Bob, Dr. Nemo, dragonsandotters, heyob, Indigo, kean, Keral, Krisni, LFGB, Norégveldi, PrettyPinkCupcake, Pyunik, Rubric of Ahriman, Sakkiko, and TNT. Thanks, guys!
AN4: Vital Statistics: Reviews: 15,595. Followers: 16,303. Favorites: 14, 487. Communities: 230. Discord followers: Over 3821! Go Team POS!
AN5: The French equivalent to the Unspeakables is called Le Bureau de L'Inconnu or the Bureau of the Unknown. It's an in-joke to The Inconnu, one of the secret conspiracies in Vampire: The Masquerade (where the name probably doesn't make much grammatical sense either). The Bureau's members are informally referred to as Chevaliers for anachronistic reasons that were put into place prior to the French Revolution. While I am intensely grateful for advice from my Francophone friends on Discord, please don't get hung up on the appropriateness of the French grammar. and/or historicity for those terms. Likewise, Sans-Magie is a neologism, so don't worry too much if it doesn't make sense in modern French. It's not like Muggle is a sensible word either.
AN6: Wear a mask! And if you're of age in the U.S., VOTE!