Xxx

"He's been quiet for a while hasn't he Wallace?"

The two Aurors, suitably protected by Dementor repelling amulets, slowly walked through the high security wing without fear, but with just a hint of wariness. Even with their trinkets, Dementors were often called demons for a reason. The Auror spoke again, before Wallace could reply.

"He deserves it. This is the high security wing. He wouldn't be here if he didn't deserve it. Serves the bastard right it does. He deserves it…. He has to deserve it, right?"

But for now, looking at the catatonic form of Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, splayed out pathetically in his traitorous Godfather's cell, it was enough to move the hearts of even the iron hearted men who guarded Azkaban.

"Don't think about it mate. You know what happens if you think too much about it."

The unnamed Auror paused and shuddered. Whatever else could be said of Wizarding Britain, those who interfered with the will of the people at the top were not known to lead long or fulfilling lives.

"I know. I know. But don't tell me you don't feel something when you see that?"

The other Auror shrugged.

"He's not the first, and he's not the last. Just as long as we're not next"

Neither noticed that the prisoner was not moving. They had already stopped paying attention to Harry Potter and the fact that he existed.

Xxx

"You disappoint me Lucius!"

The Malfoy patriarch cringed from his position on the floor, kneeling on right foot, much as the ancient wizards were known to do so.

"My Lord! I-"

"Excuses! Mere excuses! Why is it that I am reduced to the sight of you like this? Where was the Malfoy who promised the world to me? Where was that sliver of competence I once had the misfortune to indulge?!"

The Dark Lord paused

"But then….Abraxan was a far more competent servant. Perhaps if I replace you with your offspring, your fathers traits may yet bleed through to the son."

The sibilant tones washed over him furiously and he cringed again. Why did this have to happen to him? That cretin Fudge would pay for this, if the Dark Lord could be relied upon to not kill him… or render him insane like the Longbottoms. And now he was bringing Draco into this. This was a disaster!

"My Lord! It is as you say. Fudge is still not willing to agree. He believes that somehow his success in this has made him more powerful than Dumbledore! Were that I could have flayed him where he stood! But I obeyed My Lord! I did as you asked, to keep our heads down. And save imperiusing him, I do not believe we can change his mind in this matter."

The Dark Lord waved aside his stammering and excuses once he finally dared to look up. The pale man looked thoughtful, an improvement over the incandescent rage that he had been showing earlier. He could only imagine how things were going to go now. A thoughtless wave of his hand and Lucius scurried away gratefully, the spectre of fear trailing behind him as he left.

Xxx

The Dark Lord sat on his white throne, alone and resplendent in his robes. His hand gripped his throne for a second and he was consumed in momentary fury. But he took an unnecessary breath and calmed down. There was no help for it.

Weeks.

It had been weeks since Potter had been eliminated from the game. It was a masterstroke to be sure, but not one of his own make. Who could have imagined that the useless imbecile Fudge could have thought up something of this import?

No, it was an impossible chance, and perhaps some madness brought forth from the same fount as had come that accursed prophesy. He grit his teeth in fury and snapped of a spell. A statue exploded, some undoubtedly priceless trinket that added to the lineage of his reticent, yet still transparent hosts.

Ah, Malfoys, what a peculiar set of pawns. It had been a few centuries since their line had drifted here from their French roots to "beloved" Britain and set down roots. Every generation since that first uprooted couple had been utterly devoted to the pursuit of enriching their position inside the magical community of the British Isles.

It was a humorous tale. How many people would remember what the Malfoys were originally? By modern standards, they were chivalrous knights, Gryffindor feudal nobility to the core. They were unusual for the time for preferring not to rape and pillage like their compatriots and living to their code of honor. Sadly, in the end, their improper judgment, their "bad faith" as they mournfully called it, had killed most of them in the end. They had trusted the wrong servant, and managed to reduce from a warrior clan of dozens into a few families totaling eleven, including kids that managed to escape to Britain. Abraxan had successfully politicked away much of their history and now they were admired by the Slytherins for their cunning and power.

Was it the greater irony, he wondered, that they were betrayed, or that they would in turn betray so many in future? After all the name Malfoy was a reference to the singular act of treachery that had led the broken family to Britain in the first place. It was a pledge, that they would forever be vigilant, forever on guard against "Bad Faith". And now a more Slytherin bunch could not be found.

But it was not the Malfoys that were his current source of…frustration. No, it was their unfortunately, and more to the point, unusually competent puppet. A puppet that thought for itself.

The creature once known as Tom rolled his wand in between his fingers and idly cast a Reparo with a flick.

There was something to be said for competent minions, but that was only for when they were competent for you. What had happened now was not in that same category. There was no help for it of course.

He had rejoiced at first. How could he not? His greatest thorn removed from the auspices of its guardian and left to wilt under the care of hoarfrost, to be picked up at his leisure when he would deign to walk in, openly and oh so negligently.

But alas! That was not to be. The removal of Harry Potter had created an unforeseen element in his plans. Fudge had turned from pawn to unwitting queen, and of neither side at that. How it rankled. The Dark Lord had been stymied by the plebian plotting of a petulant pustule, as it were. And why was this so? It all came back to that accursed prophesy of course. There was no help for it. That nuisance of a woman Trelawney was still causing a mess long after she had spewed those cryptic words so long ago.

Unfortunately, the facts remained that he would have to do something about this himself. As a Dark Lord, he had to be seen as acting through proxy. A lord without servants is not a lord at all. And a lord that acts as if his servants are incompetent or untrustworthy, that he needs to do everything himself; well, that was a rather different kettle of fish wasn't it? There was no help for it, but this— this bittersweet mockery of circumstance had conspired to put him in the position where he would have to act by himself whether he was accompanied or assisted by his minions or no.

He had a plan, originally. A beautifully complex plan that would be impossible to be foreseen by anyone. A masterpiece of ingenuity that would have required little to no action on his own, merely the competence of a few minions, and that too at the very end of that magnificent play. A way to use that scar that had ended his legend, a way to turn that mockery of defeat into his very triumph! But now, that plan was in shambles, and he wasn't even sure what he could do to salvage that, not when that boy had been removed so completely from the game.

And his other "loyal" servant was incapacitated as well. Pettigrew had been sent to replace his previous attempts, his animagus form supposedly an asset in getting that disproportionately important orb. And what did he have to show for it? Another servant lost to madness. It was pure luck that his body had been recovered at all. If that yet respiring corpse had been captured…. well, he had not been and the current situation was all the better for it.

In the end, he did not need to "rescue" his pet unspeakable, Rookwood to come to the conclusion that this was some work of fate. The mere presence of a prophesy all but ensured that. If only he had come to that conclusion sooner! He could have stepped through to his destiny himself, unremarked upon, unnoticed, an invisible blade that slipped by their unknowing necks and walked out with his prize. It would have been a magnificent display! A sign that their lord was the Slytherin he proclaimed to be! A cunning man! A devious man! And it was all to waste. Now all that there was, it could only befit a wretched thief.

There was no help for it. He would have to go there himself.

He rolled his wand between his fingertips and sighed.

There was no help for it, he was going to make his way to London.

And he had so wanted to walk in triumphantly as a conqueror rather than as a thief.

There was no help for it.

He was the greatest Dark Lord and yet, there was no bloody help for it!

He idly shot a blasting curse that gave the room a new window and sighed.

There was no help for it, he repeated resignedly. He grimly mused that this phrase had somehow become representative of this ridiculous situation in its entirety.

His rage would be tempered by need for now. It was time for Lord Voldemort to once more walk the British Isles as his proper self.

Xxx

The ministry was dark and empty at night.

Hestia Jones clutched at her invisibility cloak numbly. She was waiting.

She may not have been sure what she was waiting for, but she was waiting.

It was her shift, and she had agreed to it, so she was stuck in this ill-fitting invisibility cloak playing guard to some dratted ball that some kook of a seer had no doubt cooked up while on his fifteenth shot of firewhiskey. Still, duty was duty, and her word was her word.

As she checked for what seemed to be the fiftieth time, she wondered if she should have bothered to join the Aurors. At least she would have been better paid than this.

The hours passed slowly. She could swear that she could feel the needles on the clock face dragging bit by mind numbing bit. At least a week back, she had seen the odd rat scurrying around. ("Really! What were the ministry wards for? Decoration?!") Now she wouldn't have minded any change of pace at all.

Perhaps it was the deep thought, or the rather morose atmosphere, but she took a few seconds to register the footsteps as they echoed in the silence. Somebody was coming!

Hestia looked at her watch and sighed. Looks like it wasn't going to be her shift replacement. She may have wished for action, but now, she wasn't so sure.

Of course, It was in that brief moment she took to bemoan her fate, that Voldemort stepped into the hallway she was in, looked at her still invisible self quizzically and began combat with a stunner that was more wave of power than spell.

Xxx

There was something to be said for pretending that combat was an afterthought, an appearance of prowess that declared its owner to be invincible. Voldemort may have given the appearance of putting forth his power in a disinterested fashion, but he was actually in the height of awareness. He was not so deluded as to believe that a this semi-skilled and frankly mediocre combatant was all that stood between him and his goals. Dumbledore was far too "wise" and cautious for that. There was no doubt hidden traps somewhere around here to trip him up. That was where his focus was. What could it be? Runic Fields? Transfiguration Traps? Potion Mines? It was exciting and exhilarating. Such a change from being cooped up in his throne room!

But as he walked forward, deflecting more and more desperate curses, Voldemort was getting worried. He had not seen anything yet. There were no traps. He was walking forward and he could see nothing. He could sense nothing. And he was not being attacked by anything save that deluded woman's occasional spells. Was it perhaps a trap tied into that woman's life force? A bit ruthless for Dumbledore perhaps, but not outside the realm of possibility. The greater good philosophy, was at its core, a policy of sacrificing the smallest number of assets for the greatest gains. And considering that Lily Potter had accomplished something similar, Dumbledore could not be incapable of such.

His steps were quickly eating away at the distance till that prophesy room, so he was running out of time to make his decisions. That girl was backing away even more frantically, with passably horrible spellwork. But then his standards were a bit high.

Voldemort took a quick moment to check for anyone else. Paranoid or not, there was no reason not to make that small check especially since this girl was not going to tax his skills.

As he pushed her back towards the Department of Mysteries proper though, he wondered why he was prolonging it. There was a point where giving the opponent a foolish hope turned into wasting both their time, and he was long past it. He sighed silently and increased his barrage, hemming the girl in between a poor imitation of fiendfire and a whirlwind of razor sharp ice shards.

Xxx

Things were not looking good, Hestia admitted to herself. In fact, they were completely and utterly bad. Here she was facing the most dangerous Dark Lord of the time (only Dark Lord, but this wasn't the time to quibble about that) and she was losing ground. Not only was she going to fail her mission, she would be dead as well. She was not exactly at Dumbledore's level. She was rapidly tiring even as her opponents expression went from gleeful to bored. She was dead, she just hadn't stopped breathing.

A carelessly cast curse went through her arm without any resistance. She muffled a cry. It was a piercer. The pain hit once she tried to move. She blinked a tear away even as she cast an explosion hex at the other man's feet. The resulting pause let her quickly run through a potions pouch. It was really useless as she expected. A spell numbed the arm, but without knowing true healing spells, she was not able to do more.

Tears rolled down her face. She was really too young to die. She was barely 26!. She still had not had a steady relationship. She hadn't even decided what to do for a living. Battling You -Know-Who was not how she imagined dying.

And then she looked at the last potion in her hand. It shone brightly in the fires of the battle. It had a golden hue. It was a birthday present from her mother(possibly hoping her daughter would finally find Mr. Right). It was something she had set aside for a rainy day. It was liquid luck. And she really needed all the luck she had and more.

Xxx

When Voldemort finally got tired of waiting for the girl to attack, he swept away the dust from that last explosion. It was a clever trick to be sure. He hadn't expected one of Dumbledore's pawns to try something sneaky like that. If she had aimed a little higher, he might even have been hit in the leg from sheer surprise. But it seemed that this was her limit; such a shame.

But what he wasn't expecting was for the hallway to be empty. He ran the possibilities through his head before he realized that the girl had finally done the sensible thing and gone inside the department. Was this something she had been told to do? He was not sure. Still, he was nothing if not capable. Let this girl try. He was almost amused at her stubbornness.

He strode in majestically through the doors. The round room was an interesting enchantment, but he had long known how to get past that. He walked in, waited for the room to stop spinning and counted clockwise from the opposite door. At the thirteenth count, he opened the door. It was as he knew it would be, the Hall of Prophesies.

He walked through the shelves, keeping an eye out for the girl. Since he was close to his end goal, he wasn't really concerned with whether she lived or died. He wasn't out to kill everyone, but one girl didn't matter. She was supposed to delay him, or stop him, and had realistically achieved neither. Once he heard the prophesy, he would decide whether to spare her, kill her now or kill her later.

He made his way through the shelves until he saw it.

There was a gap. The magically enchanted shelves had a gap in them! Somebody, and he knew ecactly who, had avoided touching the prophesy sphere and just plain taken the whole thing out, shelf and all.

He turned around and stalked through the room. His incandescent rage was something ordinary mortals could not comprehend. He overpowered a Point Me spell, twisting its purpose and magically empowering it with his rage until he saw where the girl was. And she was rushing back!

Voldemort flexed his magic. He turned incorporeal. He was now, for all purposes, a wraith. He shot up, ignoring the wards(something his followers could not do) and sped into the Atrium. He arrived between her and the exit. A flash of a spell sped past him. And she had missed anyway. He was not impressed.

"The sphere girl, hand It over, or we will see how I can take it from your miserable corpse!"

The girl was still frightened, he noted. And the tear tracks down her face were indicators of just how scary he was. Yet, he knew that she would resist. It was the set of her eyes, the way she trembled. This one was obviously a Gryffindor. It was almost nostalgic.

And she shook her head and took out a pouch.

"I-I'm not afraid of you!" she shouted and in a rather comical manoeuvre, she put the tip of her wand inside the pouch.

Voldemort was not too slow on the uptake. His own wand was up in a flash from its less threatening manner.

"IMPERIO!"

The curse was unfortunately too late.

The muffled boom of a bombarda and that was the end of his plots, his plans and now his mission. He stared incredulously at the triumphant looking slip of a girl and roared in anger. Magic whirled through the air, oppressively shattering all sorts of small objects and cracking the walls.

He raised his wand again and cast a spell. A green flash of light and then the girl was dead. Like a lifetime ago though, the moment seemed to stretch on forever. She was still crying he saw, but she was now smiling as well. He should have tortured her first. The prophesy was lost now thanks to some unwitting twit of a girl. He would now have to find something else to do. And he would have to speed up his timetable for dominion of the wizarding world. He turned around and froze.

Arrayed before him, and with more coming from the floo, were the employees of the Ministry of Magic. And before them all, in blue pyjamas, was a shocked looking Cornelius Fudge. He was flapping his gums, but soundless otherwise. In fact, none of the crowd was audible. And suddenly, he was struck by realization. That first spell he had dismissed was a silencing spell! The girl had silenced the whole area behind him, letting the witless fools gather up behind him as witnesses even as he was threatening the girl. Why hadn't he noticed the presence of the fools lined up there? He had been outsmarted by a mere woman, by Dumbledore's pawn no less! He swore silently. So much for keeping under notice.

But then again, he thought, mind churning furiously, the prophesy had not been heard, but Potter was not in play either. He could act out, because Potter was already out of the picture. So why exactly, was he stalling? And like the sun breaking out through the dark clouds, he felt most of his frustrations bleed away. He picked a target and cast a spell, grinning horridly. A killing curse, always a classic.

A block of stone rose from the floor and blocked the spell. He looked around and sure enough; "Dumbledore!" he snarled. And there he was, the meddling old man. A wave of a wand dispelled the silencing spell and then he stepped forward, shielding the hapless ministry workers behind him. Dumbledore looked equally furious and disappointed. He opened his mouth and paused, as if not sure what to say.

"Not today Tom." he finally said grimly, shaking his head slowly.

Voldemort snarled again. But he didn't attack. He just portkeyed away without another word. He was immortal. There was always tomorrow.

Xxx

Magical Britain woke the next day to a very different Daily Prophet. So it was that the 17th of March was a really bad day.

"THEY WERE RIGHT! HE-WHO-MUST-NOT-BE-NAMED RETURNS!"

"MINISTER FUDGE RESIGNS! SCRIMENGOER APPOINTED INTERIM MINISTER!"

"HARRY POTTER MISSING!"

And perhaps the most ominous headline at the bottom of the page, thanks to some unusually competent deductive journalism and eavesdropping;

"IS HARRY POTTER THE CHOSEN ONE?"

There was not much rejoicing. It was just one of those days where nobody was happy, not even dark wizards. Really, the only people who were gleefully cheering were the media. They always loved scandals.

Xxx

Cornelius Fudge stared moodily at his fireplace, twirling a glass of Firewhiskey unconsciously. He just shook his head at the hilarity of it all. For all that he had plotted and planned, it had all become nothing.

Well, not quite nothing. He still had his money, his island and his life. It was he reflected, better than one of his famous ancestors had managed. Getting crucified and manually exsanguinated as a statement by the incumbent Dark Lord was not how he wanted the Fudge family to remembered for, again.

He was no longer the Minister of Magic, but then yesterday's headlines had seen to that. What was that man thinking? Revealing himself like that in public? Dark Lords were supposed to be competent, not just magically powerful. Even he knew little of exactly what had transpired day before yesterday, but He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had been there for something, and that Jones girl had denied him. Dumbledore had, as usual, refused to clarify what had happened or why that girl was even in the ministry that night. And the emergency session of the Wizengamot had thrown him out as soon as legislatively possible. So he couldn't get any information even if he wanted to.

At least, now that they had their precious saviour back, they would forget about him. Dumbledore had already had the boy, he was sure There was no other way that Potter had disappeared mere hours after his ouster. It was a masterpiece of course, correctly guessing that all the actual measures that he had taken were intrinsically based on the fact that he was minister.

Of course, now that he thought about it, there was also the condition that no human could approach Potter to rescue him. But Dumbledore was practically known for his support of creatures. Merlin! Even that werewolf or that Half Giant could have gotten through at any time. Potter had actually been gone for months!

But how had Dumbledore found out, he asked himself before freezing. He suddenly recalled one of Lucius's offhanded comments, something about twinkling eyes being a sign of magic being used.

Of course Dumbledore used Legilimency! What had he been thinking! Any one of his collaborators among the ministry employees could have been the one to reveal the scheme. Dumbledore running around the ministry for Potter's sake hadn't been in vain at all had it? The bastard had completely outmanoeuvred him and he hadn't realized it even to the end! He shattered his glass against the wall and let out an enraged scream.

He panted as he vanished the glass. Calm; he had to be calm. Yes, he no longer had to deal with any of it. He had escaped that mad house with his life his money and his sanity intact. He was not angry, no, he was happy. That's right. He was glad of leaving. Wasn't that what he had set in motion in the first place? Ever since that blasted tournament, this was exactly what he had planned. So really, he had actually succeeded in his end goal…just not exactly as he had planned it.

In any case, wizarding Britain had less memory than a goldfish, especially now that they had their little blood war to focus on. He sarcastically toasted the health of Potter and Dumbledore and took a swig of Firewhiskey. If only that dark idiot hadn't appeared for a while longer. If this had happened just two weeks later, he could have finished liquidating his assets in Britain. Now he had three large properties still unsold, and he couldn't go back to finish the transaction. Still, he was happier here, on his own island, away from all the revenge seekers and fans, away from Dumbledore and You-Know-Who.

And away from Delores he added. Now there was somebody to really fear.

In fact, his leaving Britain was for the best really. The public was in one of their moods. He was already under fire for arresting Potter. And now that the "light side" had been proven right, they would all be on his head about being a "blind idiot" What did they know?

Yes, best avoid Britain for a few years. Then he remembered the bit about the Prophesy business("really Rita, you couldn't have made up something a little more convincing?") Well, a few decades should let them cool down. If they blamed him for whatever horrors the boy had gone through? It was a good thing this island was unplottable and warded with almost the best that money could buy. That and obscurity would let him have his peace. And In the meantime, he was free to drink and be merry.

Another bottle of Firewhiskey made its way into his hands. He was no longer Minister, he told himself. He didn't have to pay heed to all the stuffy protocols that pureblood society demanded. A quick gulp and he smacked his lips. This was the good stuff right there. Let Scrimengoer lose his mind in that madhouse. He was personally going to enjoy being rich and free. A 45 hectare private island, investments with an annual return of 3000 galleons, an enchanted yacht(well, it was a 40s era ship that his great aunt had stolen from the muggles and left him when she died. He had been actually touched) filled with a few decades worth of personal comforts and a floo connection to the colonies. Yes, this was the life.

Xxx

Dumbledore sat in his office. For once, not even Fawkes singing could have uplifted his mood.

But then, there was nothing to be happy about was there?

Across him, Minerva McGonagall sat with pursed lips. Even in the bright light, and having a Phoenix within, the Hogwarts Headmaster's office lay shrouded in darkness.

Harry Potter was gone. Not even owls or Fawkes could tell where he was. It was…disquieting.

And with Fudge gone, they had no idea where or how he was now. In hindsight, evicting that man in that torrent of righteous wrath may have condemned their hope once and for all. But how was anyone to know that Fudge had lied about Harry's location?

They should have expected it of course. When Fudge had told Dumbledore that he had taken precautions, he didn't expect the ex-minister to pull off something like this. How had he even managed it? And where was the boy now?

Those questions would be unanswered of course.

Voldemort did not have Harry; that much they were assured of.

Azkaban did not have Harry; that much they had personally confirmed.

And the Order had lost Harry; that much they were all too aware of.

"Headmaster, what do we do?"

Albus lifted his weary face and sighed.

"What we must Minerva… What we must."

AN:

Things are heating up. Harry is no longer known. He's disappeared and nobody knows where he is. Of course, people are taking it differently. The order is tearing their hair out in worry and imagine fudge did it. Fudge is bitter about losing money and having to exile himself in unplanned fashion and blames dumbledore for being the chessmaster and voldemort for being a patience less maverick(of sorts). Voldemort himself is eager to find Harry to kill him, angry at Dumbledore for getting in his way and angry at fudge for playing at competence. Yes, things are all messed up. Harry's psyche has not left azkaban and shows its scars….in the next chapter.

On to other characters!

Hestia is a happy go lucky girl who ends up dealing a blow for the light…because of sheer dumb luck. And she died, which I'm sad about, but was inevitable. You don't survive fighting alone and trapped while facing overachieving lich murder machines, unless you literally have a prophesy on your side

Lucius is trapped between his service to the dark, and his family. No, I'm not going to do a redemption arc.

Fudge's stuff aka retirement stash:

An island next door to Barbados with plus sized mansion, a house elf and plenty of coconuts. Family property. 45 hectares ( about 84 American football fields or the size of Vatican City). Currently occupied.

3 unsold properties in Britain and Europe, collectively valued at 24,000 galleons. Currently in limbo, unable to sell without Fudge's presence.

Investments to the tune of 34,500 galleons, giving a return of 2400 galleons in the previous financial year. Currently active, returns added to the Fudge account in Gringotts.

The Marionette 1936 Dutch Fishing Trawler 52 x 7m. Presumed lost in Atlantic storm, 1940. "Acquired" by Esmerelda Woodthorpe nee Fudge, 1940. Enchanted as a magical yacht by Goblin employed warders, 1940. Transferred to Cornelius Fudge after death of owner in Death Eater raid, 1979. Currently moored to Unnamed island near Barbados owned by Cornelius Fudge. Currently stocked for long term travel and luxury. Requires ward maintenance in 48 months.