Author's Note: Eh, we've all seen the fics with a Goblet of Fire that can yank Harry across dimensions - so here's a different overpowered Goblet of Fire.
Mostly crack. Bit of an Idiot!Harry, though mostly in the form of denial that any of this is actually happening. No character-bashing, unless you count Karkaroff's snark.
After processing all the contestants, the Goblet of Fire conducted a quick review of the selected Champions before shutting down for the year. Unfortunately, the diagnostic turned up one error: the fourth Champion... fourth Champion? ...fourth Champion was found to be underage, despite the heads of the schools specifying that all selected Champions must be seventeen years of age or older.
Under better conditions, the Goblet would have quickly resolved the issue. However, it seemed some other problem - probably the centuries of neglect - had impaired its decision-making capabilities, and thus it struggled to determine the proper resolution. A full minute passed before it settled upon an answer: updating the Champion to the proper age.
The magic of the Triwizard Tournament, calling upon the full authority bestowed upon it by the deep magics, thus reached through time and space, retrieved the Champion in the proper state, and made the suitable alteration. That completed, the flames of the Goblet were snuffed out, not to be relit for... it made a swift calculation... another three years. At least.
Really, now - it hadn't been called upon for centuries, and, once the schools bothered to give the Tournament the time of day, they made this demand of it? Ungrateful lot of children, truly...
Harry had an unpleasant awakening.
His first impulse was to attempt to go back to that vivid dream he'd been having, the one with the mountain road leading down to that misty town, in which dwelt the man he needed so desperately, who possessed knowledge crucial to his ultimate victory - And what had that man's name been, again? Gregorovitch?
The impulse didn't last long, however. For one, he realized he was not, in fact, Lord Voldemort.
For another, he realized this was not the Burrow.
He sat bolt upright and looked around him, at the familiar tables, at the vast hall, at the gawping faces - no, it wasn't the Burrow indeed. This was Hogwarts. How in the world -
The next realization hit him like a physical blow. The children on either side of him looked very familiar indeed. Very familiar, that was, if...
He whipped his gaze around to the front of the Great Hall, and found an old man staring back at him, a scrap of paper still held aloft in one hand. At the sight of the cup on the table before him, Harry sat back heavily in his chair, any relief he ought to have felt at the sight of a living Albus Dumbledore instantly dissipating.
"Right," he said, nodding absently at the world around him. "Right, this is just a dream. I'm going to wake up any minute, and..."
"Harry Potter?" Dumbledore called out from the front of the Hall. He sounded a good deal less certain than Harry remembered; was that just part of the dream, or had he just not noticed at the time? "Harry?" He cleared his throat. "I presume you are still Mr. Potter, are you not?"
Bit of a weird dream, this. Harry shook his head, then rose to his feet. He noticed that he towered over the young Ron and Hermione on either side of him - about the only time he'd ever be taller than Ron - and looked down at himself: not only was he still in his seventeen-year-old body, but he was still in his bedclothes to boot. He supposed he ought to count his blessings that he didn't sleep in his underwear or, worse yet, in the nude - Dreams where he wound up naked in public were always rotten, if better than the Voldemort-dreams.
"Well - if you are Harry Potter, would you please come up here?"
He wondered what Trelawney would diagnose this dream as representing. Lack of maturity? Feeling isolated from his peers? A desire to return to simpler times? He snorted. Clearly, the strain of the oncoming conflict with Voldemort had gotten to him - he was feeling nostalgic even for the old fraud.
With no better idea of what to do, he went along with the dream and repeated his walk up to the front of the Hall, as a much younger Harry had done so long ago. Had this only been three years in the past? It felt like forever.
Even the dream itself seemed incredulous at the surreal situation, with the Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs commenting on his appearance as he passed. Someone tapped him on the shoulder; he turned to find the Weasley twins regarding him with furrowed brows. "What did you do to get that result out of the Age Line?" one asked.
He felt a wistful, sad twinge at seeing them so young and fresh-faced - and George with both his ears. Bloody Snape... "Righteous thoughts and clean living," he replied dryly.
George frowned in disappointment. "Well, bloody hell, no wonder it didn't work for us."
Harry snorted and resumed his march towards doom. With luck, maybe he'd figure out why he was having this dream once he was up there. Hopefully it wouldn't turn out like the dreams where Cedric was hale and hearty one moment and dead the next. It would be just about his luck for the dream-Dumbledore to start screaming "why did you let me die, why did you let Snape kill me" the moment he got up there.
Speaking of the traitor, he was seated at the teachers' table as though nothing was wrong, as though he hadn't fled the school in disgrace, as though he had any right to - Harry checked himself. He had just recalled that the grizzled man seated at that table was not the real Mad-Eye Moody, and so Snape was in perfectly good company. Come to think of it, Karkaroff had been a Death Eater as well, hadn't he? A few more, and they could have held an Inner Circle Reunion Party.
Keeping his urge to vault over the table and kick Snape in the face under control - it was his own dream, wasn't he owed a bit of relief? - he walked up calmly and came to stand before Dumbledore, just in case there was some deeper message to be conveyed. After all, some people believed dead loved ones could visit one in a dream to impart advice and give warnings, and, while this was a somewhat convoluted set-up just to pass along a final message... that was Dumbledore's style, wasn't it? It wasn't enough for him to tell Harry about Tom Riddle's past - he'd insisted on Harry viewing it through Pensieve memories in order to really get the full picture. So this whole set-up with the start of the Triwizard Tournament made sense, in a Dumbledore-ish way.
Dumbledore, for his part, didn't look very sagely at the moment. He looked Harry up and down, his bushy eyebrows raising as he took in Harry's disheveled appearance, and took another glance at the scrap of paper in his hand before lowering it. "Mr. Potter?"
"Based upon your apparel, I must ask..." Dumbledore tilted his head. "What were you doing, just before you found yourself here?"
Harry shrugged. "Dreaming, sir." He looked at the gobsmacked faces of the teachers. He'd have to remember the expression on Professor McGonagall's face. "Which I expect I'm still doing."
"I could see how you might believe that," Dumbledore murmured. "Perhaps that was the wrong question. Still - I am correct, then, in presuming you were not at Hogwarts?"
"Yes, I was-" Harry caught himself. Hadn't he been having one of his Voldemort-dreams right before this one? Who, precisely, was he talking to? In a much flatter tone, he said, "I am not at Hogwarts. Sir."
"Oh? Where do you think this is, Potter?" sneered a hateful and all-too-familiar voice. "The Quidditch World Cup?"
"Severus, now is not the time," Dumbledore said in an exasperated voice. Still, it was far too polite for a murder victim addressing his murderer, and Harry's temper flared at the sight. To think Dumbledore had given Snape every chance, and that Death Eater had repaid him by - "As for you, Harry - I think you mean to say you were not at Hogwarts."
"Am not, sir."
"I daresay you can see-"
"This is a dream," Harry repeated. "It has to be. In reality, I am in my bed at - Well, in my bed, at any rate." Now was his turn to regard Dumbledore askance - if this really was Dumbledore, at any rate. "I don't think my current location could be that important for anything we have to discuss, Professor."
Dumbledore was wearing a long-suffering expression. "Harry, I..." He sighed. "Mr. Potter, I can only imagine how confused you must be at the moment. I confess to finding this a tad confusing, myself." Glancing over Harry's shoulder at the students seated in the Great Hall, he added, "I daresay I am not the only one." Turning back to Harry, he said, "Given your behavior - and your attire - I presume that you are not Harry Potter, fourteen years old, who has suddenly been aged to maturity via magic."
Harry's stomach performed a nasty somersault. "I'm sixteen - no, wait, today would be -" He blinked. "Seventeen? Have I already turned?"
Dumbledore's eyes shut. "Heaven have mercy on we poor fools who think to impose our petty demands upon that which is beyond our understanding, and forget the Procrustean nature of ancient magic," he murmured. Opening his eyes, he tossed a pained glance at the inert Goblet before him, then looked up at Harry, seeming very old indeed. "I am so, so sorry, Harry. I..." He gave a deep sigh. "Would you kindly go to the door over there, and..."
Harry nodded slowly and began walking. He already knew what he was supposed to do. This was a dream of the past, after all. Wasn't it? Unless... no, no, Time Turners only went back an hour.
Unless that restriction only applied to Time Turners, and other sorts of magic lacked such restraint...
When he opened the door, Krum, Fleur, and... Cedric were right where he remembered them. Oh, Merlin, Cedric. Harry blinked rapidly and swallowed against a lump in his throat. He almost hoped this wasn't a dream, because around now was the time that a dream would be soon interrupted by high, cold laughter and a flash of acid-green light...
Fleur turned around as the door opened, and frowned at Harry's appearance. "Eh... are you one of zose, how do you say, sleepwalkers?"
Well, at least she wasn't calling him a "leetle boy" anymore. Harry took a petty moment to appreciate that he was of a height with the other Champions, now. Huh - Cedric was actually an inch shorter than him. Who would have thought it?
Cedric, for his part, took one look at Harry - and drew his wand. Harry blinked as Cedric pointed his wand straight at Harry, and the other Champions seemed equally confused. "Vot's the matter?" Krum asked, readying his own wand; Fleur just looked at Cedric with an incredulous expression, as though to say that this was a bit of an overreaction to a mere sleepwalker.
"You look like Harry Potter," Cedric said, gaze going to Harry's forehead, "but -" He gestured wildly at Harry with his free hand. "What's going on? Who are you?"
At that moment, Ludo Bagman chose to stumble into the room behind Harry. "I - Oh dear - I, I hope I'm not interrupting anything," he gabbled, taking in Cedric's reaction.
"Mr. Bagman, what's going on? Who is this?" Cedric repeated, keeping his wand trained on Harry. Well, Harry had to look on the bright side - at least this was a novel sort of Cedric-nightmare.
Bagman recovered himself after a moment and drew himself up to his full height, smoothing back his thinning hair. "That," he proclaimed with a sweeping gesture, "is Harry Potter - the one and only (extraordinary, isn't it?) fourth Triwizard Champion."
Fleur's flawless brow creased. "Pardon?"
"Pardon, indeed," Cedric repeated angrily. "Sir, I don't know if you realize, but Harry Potter's fourteen, and small for his age at that - and this bloke-" He gestured again at Harry, who was beginning to remember that the sainted Mr. Diggory had been a bit of a swot in life.
"Yes, yes - well, as I said, extraordinary," Bagman muttered, giving Harry an awkward glance. "Er - I believe Headmaster Dumbledore was saying, if I understood him right before I went in here, that the Tournament might have been a bit put out at Harry being underage, and decided to make - adjustments -"
"And you are saying now that Triwizard Tournament - it can decide to do such thing, and not to count to three?" Krum said acidly. Bagman flushed.
"Well - it is most unusual, yes, very extraordinary - but, of course, Mr. Potter has always been quite unique, Boy-Who-Lived and all that - Have you heard of that abroad? Anyway, ah, he's - he's a little special, really..."
While Bagman gabbled, the door came open again, and a group of people came in. Harry knew who they were without looking: the three Headmasters, the Imperiused Mr. Crouch, Professor McGonagall, and a certain traitorous Death Eater. No, not Crouch Jr. - the other one. "Sir?" Cedric spoke up immediately. "Mr. Bagman's saying some very odd..."
"I'm afraid Mr. Bagman is probably telling the truth, as we understand it," Dumbledore said in a tired voice. When Harry glanced at him, he noticed that Madame Maxime and Karkaroff were both doing their best imitations of a basilisk... oh, as was the treacherous bastard hanging around the doorframe, of course. Alas for them, neither he nor Dumbledore were keeling over on command... at least not yet. He'd have to do something about Snape... "The magic of the Triwizard Tournament seems to have reacted in a most unusual manner to the inclusion of Mr. Potter."
"Well, we don't really know if it's unusual, since there's never been a fourth Champion before," Karkaroff sniped. "We should at least try including a fifth before we come to any conclusions."
"But I do not understand," Fleur spoke up. "How can zere be four Champions? Eef a new one were to be added - would ze Tournament not zen adjust by eliminating one of ze original three?"
Now Cedric was looking alarmed. "Zat would be fair," Madame Maxime mused. "Eef Hogwarts were overwhelmed by ze impulse to replace zeir original Champion at ze last minute - ze last instant, to be truthful - zen surely zey should -"
"It is not understood what occurred," Dumbledore said firmly, "but both Mr. Diggory's name and Mr. Potter's name came forth from the Goblet of Fire. According to the rules, they can and must both compete."
"The rules only specify three Champions, Dumbledore!" Karkaroff snapped.
"I am well aware of that, Igor -"
"Then explain why your school gets two, and the rest of us must make do with one apiece!"
"Sir," Cedric said hesitantly, "sir? If I could have a moment - I'd just be happy hearing from your mouth how this bloke could possibly be Harry Potter, what he's doing here, and... all of that aside, why he chose to show up in his pajamas, of all things?"
Dumbledore cast his gaze about the room and took a deep breath, as though gathering his strength for what he had to say next.
"My reasonable guess, Mr. Diggory, is that this is not the Harry Potter you know, but in fact his future self, who was seized and carried off in his sleep by the magic of the Triwizard Tournament just as he turned seventeen years old."
"What?" said two voices simultaneously; Harry was disgusted to realize the second was Snape. He wanted nothing to do with that treacherous scum. The rest of the room seemed to have been shocked speechless.
"Dumbly-dorr," Madame Maxime ventured after a moment, "is there any reason to believe zat ze magic of ze Tournament is capable of this?"
"As my dear colleague Professor Karkaroff has generously pointed out," Dumbledore said, taking his half-moon spectacles off and rubbing at his eyes, "there has never been a fourth Champion before, and thus we find ourselves in wholly uncharted territory."
"Yes, but you can't just claim anything could happen, simply because nothing's known of this particular... mess," Karkaroff snarled. "Or should we all prepare ourselves in case we suddenly find ourselves in lunar orbit - since anything could happen, after all?" He put on an unpleasant smile and arched an eyebrow. "By your reasoning, Dumbledore, that's about as likely. More so, since it's at least possible to get into orbit. Even Muggles can do it."
"They can?" Bagman said faintly. Everyone ignored him.
"Rest assured, Igor, that if I did find myself in outer space (and with the appropriate charms to protect myself from freezing, suffocation, and explosive decompression before I had a chance to contemplate my newfound surroundings), I would duly conclude it was possible that I had suddenly been launched into outer space by some esoteric magical phenomenon," Dumbledore said, sounding a little curt. "Likewise, we find ourselves with a seventeen-year-old Harry Potter, in his pajamas, who seems as baffled by the whole matter as we are. Kindly tell me how else this might have happened."
"I'm still dreaming?" Harry suggested helpfully.
"No, Mr. Potter - unless you subscribe to the belief that this earthly existence is nothing but dream and illusion, which I suppose is always a possibility. Otherwise, however... I fear you are quite awake."
Harry blinked, then shook his head. "No, I..." He pinched himself, but wasn't surprised when it didn't work; he'd had enough painful Voldemort-dreams to think pain had much use in awakening him from unwanted visions. "Look. I know this is a dream."
"How do you 'know' that, Harry?" Dumbledore said, placing his spectacles back on his long and crooked nose. "Is there something specific that seems to you to be impossible?" He held up one hand as several mouths at once opened. "The matter of a fourth Triwizard Champion aside."
"Well, yeah," Harry said. "I've been through all this before. I didn't magically end up seventeen years old last time."
Incredulous exclamations erupted throughout the room. Dumbledore fixed an intense stare upon Harry. "Were you fourteen years old last time, Mr. Potter?"
"Yes," Harry said impatiently (to more incredulity), "and it was Cedric, Fleur, and Krum last time, and no one bloody believed me that I didn't put my name in the Goblet last time, and-"
His eyes narrowed. The familiar clunk of a peg leg was approaching the door, and a little stunt had just occurred to him that would be cathartic. As long as he was in this rather lifelike dream, he might as well speed things up. He held one finger to his lips (Dumbledore frowned, but nodded), and patted down his pockets for his wand - See, that was another piece of evidence that this was a dream. He hadn't gone to sleep with his glasses on his face, and yet they were there, plain as day; he hadn't slept with his wand in his pocket, and yet it had been helpfully provided as well. He withdrew it and waited.
Sure enough, a hunched, grizzled figure hobbled into view, magical eye whizzing as he scrutinized Harry. "So there you are, Potter," he grunted as he shoved Snape aside on his way into the room. "Most unexpected, this whole business - but in my line of work, you don't get far if you don't expect the unexpeeect-"
His growl gave way to a shriek as he was hoisted into the air by his good ankle, and cut off entirely when Harry's Stunner impacted him. "And he was a Death Eater last time, too," Harry said dryly to the stupefied wizards and witches in the room.
"Moody?!" Karkaroff screeched, sounding only a hair less shocked than Crouch Junior. "A Death Eater?! Boy, you've lost your-"
"No, his son," Harry said, jerking a thumb at Barty Crouch, who made a convulsive movement like a poorly-handled marionette. "Barty Crouch Junior? Ring a bell?" He waved his hand at the unconscious and suspended impostor. "Check him. That hip flask's full of Polyjuice."
Dumbledore looked at Harry incredulously, then waved his wand. The hip flask flew out of the impostor's cloak, and its cap unscrewed itself with another flick of Dumbledore's wand; it tipped to the side, and Dumbledore's eyes widened, then narrowed, at the sludgy solution that began to trickle out of it. He set it aside with another swing of his wand. "Mr. Potter, I am beginning to see why you hoped you were dreaming."
Crouch the Elder continued to twitch, grunting and moaning like a man trying to fight his way out of a nightmare; when Dumbledore flicked a gaze at him, Harry helpfully added, "Imperius," and a barrage of spells laid Crouch low a moment later. As the man writhed within the constricting coils of blood-red, barbed vines that seemed to tighten around him with every movement, Harry looked over at Karkaroff, who met Harry's gaze with a beatific smile.
"They can do anything, Imperius victims," Karkaroff said blithely. "Just doing my part to protect us all. I'm sure Crouch himself would understand if he was his proper self."
Harry suspected it had rather more to do with Crouch's interrogation of Karkaroff thirteen years past than any concerns for the welfare of others, but said nothing. Dumbledore, meanwhile, kept his gaze focused upon the younger Crouch, his wand moving through complex and impossibly-intricate patterns as he muttered a lengthy incantation in an unknown tongue. When he finished, he gave a final dramatic flick of his wand, and the impostor's body began to change.
As the peg-leg and magical eye clattered to the ground, Dumbledore let out a deep, deep sigh. "I must confess, Mr. Potter - I too wish that you were dreaming."
"So I'm to understand," Karkaroff said drolly, "that the iron-willed Bartemius Crouch ended up as just another Imperius puppet, the invincible Alastor Moody was impersonated by a Death Eater who's supposed to be in Azkaban -"
"Dead, actually," Snape said, staring at the upside-down Crouch Junior, who was now unmistakably himself.
"Ah, how lovely. Necromancy, just what every school needs! Well, as I was saying - And, finally, the magnificent and unequaled Albus Dumbledore, foe of Dark wizards the world over and Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards, manages to have his good friend impersonated by a dead Death Eater for several months (though that would be the liveliest-looking Inferius I've ever seen) and to completely bungle an international tournament before it even properly started. Impressive!"
"Why, thank you, Igor," Dumbledore said through his teeth. "Surely I could never grasp the gravity of the situation without your peerless commentary."
"Well, you don't seem to-"
"I only wonder what such fine wit might make of the tale of your own life, unimpaired by any of the clemency and kindness which we lesser mortals so often practice in judging others."
Karkaroff shut his mouth. Madame Maxime harrumphed. "And you weell say zat zees Monsieur Crouch ees, of course, to blame for meddling with ze Tournament, forcing ze selection of a fourth Champion, and anyzing else requiring a scapegoat..."
"He may well be," Dumbledore said, turning to Snape. "Severus, I presume you know what to do?"
Aside from murder the man who did everything for him? Harry turned away in disgust and stared into the fire. "You should know the Minister had him Kissed last time rather than survive to give inconvenient testimony," he remarked. "Just, you know, as a bit of warning before you call the authorities."
He listened indifferently to the chorus of appalled shrieks and incredulous laughter that followed. Well, he'd gotten his time's worth out of this dream; it certainly made a pleasant departure from the reality of Voldemort's rise. If it ended right now, he'd be satisfied. If it went on much longer, he'd probably take out some of his frustrations on dream-Snape and consider it good practice for when he came face-to-face with the man in reality. Bastard.
That said - a dream where nobody died, nobody tried to kill him, and nobody came back from the dead to scream at him about having failed to save them? Positively blissful when it came to his dreams these days. He could use a lot more dreams like this.
Author's Note: Still room for a plot here (once Harry realizes he's not dreaming) - Harry knows of the Horcruxes, but doesn't know the locations of the Locket, Cup, or Diadem. (He does know the location of the Ring, so he can at least tell Dumbledore about that and pass on a 'careful about the curse on that thing' warning.) He's also working off of impaired information, since he fully believes in evil!Snape and has no idea that he's the last Horcrux. Plus that, Wormtail and Voldemort would obviously change their plans as soon as they learned Crouch had been found out (to say nothing of Harry coming back from the future).
That said, Sirius is still alive, Wormtail and Voldemort's plans have gone south, and Dumbledore's unimpaired (if missing large chunks of his dignity). Most likely scenario is that the war never fully restarts, though the Tom-and-Peter show continues for some time. On the other hand, there's always the chance that a rat, a snake, and a baby can successfully pry Bellatrix loose from Azkaban, and thereby regain access to the Cup Horcrux... Stranger things have happened in the Wizarding World.
[Guess at a plot sketch: Harry infodumps to Dumbledore, tipping him off to the Ring. Tournament more of a backdrop than anything - Political turmoil hits the Wizarding World after the testimony of Bartemius Crouch Junior, with too many reputable witnesses to shut up. Britain gets a reputation as that weird nation that can't even hold a school tournament without interference by political extremists. Unspeakables poke around Harry out of curiosity regarding the whole 'time-traveler' thing. Possible benign discovery and extraction of the Harrycrux at this point if I wanted to have a non-jackass!Dumbledore for once - otherwise big drama at the end of the fic for the usual 'you set me up to die?!' reasons.
Based on Crouch's testimony regarding Peter Pettigrew's continued survival (and an of-age Harry putting pressure on various figures, the traditional blackmailing of Rita Skeeter included), Sirius gets pardoned. Somewhere along the way, Harry stays at Grimmauld Place and has his epiphany regarding Regulus. That solves the Locket (the joy of having access to basilisk fangs). After months of researching the Founders with Dumbledore, Harry figures out that Ravenclaw's Diadem might be an option, eventually hits upon the Grey Lady, and remembers that one circlet in the Room of Hidden Things. What luck! Diadem down.
Meanwhile, Voldemort gives up on resurrection-via-Rube-Goldberg-scheme and manages to spring Bellatrix from Azkaban, and rejoins with the Cup Horcrux. Various creepy elaborations on that summary possible - long story short, Voldemort probably gets resurrected a month or two earlier than in canon. Nice job breaking it, hero! Well, except that he doesn't have a way around the blood protection or the brother wands issue. That only stops him from going after Harry directly, though. The only curb on his atrocities is that he's acutely aware he's a lot closer to death than he'd like and he has no idea of the survival of any Horcruxes with which he's not in immediate contact, so he prefers the magical equivalent of drive-by shootings to actual battles. Second War is more a loosely connected set of spree killings than an actual war. As such, the final verdict on Voldemort's legacy is less "Dark Lord" and more "weak and fearful man taking as many people with him to the grave as he could so he didn't have to die alone". Cold comfort to the dead, though.
After enough drama/tension/gratuitous character death, Harry and Dumbledore finally have a showdown with Voldemort and take out him and Nagini. Dumbledore would probably either retire with honor or die heroically, just for a change from my usual bashing him like a pinata. Harry gets sick of being treated somewhere between a conquering hero and a circus curiosity and goes off to travel around the world under an assumed identity, ending up as basically 'Gilderoy Lockhart if he wasn't a narcissistic fraud'. Everything probably ends up well for the rest of the surviving cast, even if Wizarding Britain has to reassure tourists for the next decade or two that "the latest Ministry statistics show that you're much more likely to die of a backfiring charm than being butchered by one of our Blood Purists!"]
Anyway, on a lighter note...
Omake: The Other Kind Of Horcrux Hunt
"R.A.B.?! Who is R.A.B.?!" A pause, then another scream: "Seventy times seven curses on you and your entire worthless house, Regulus Black-"
As his Master screeched incoherently and Nagini offered comforting hisses, Peter pressed his face against the cold stone of the island and wondered if it was such a terrible thing to die. "Don't mind me," he croaked through his burning throat. "Just... bit of water, please, if it please m'lord..."
The wonderful thing about the Gaunt shack was that there was no bloody potion guarding it this time. (Peter wondered if he'd ever feel entirely right again.) The not-so-wonderful thing about the Gaunt shack was that it had also been raided. And, according to his master, there was no doubt just who had done it.
"Dumbledoreeeeee!" his master screamed, sounding less like the most feared sorcerer of the British Isles and more like a third-year girl who'd just been stood up for a date. In case he proved to be not-so-invincible, Peter reviewed his job prospects. Surely there was a Dark Lord somewhere in need of more minions? Maybe somewhere in Canada? They always said it was the quiet ones, and he certainly proved it...
"Perhaps we could sneak into Hogwarts, m'lord-"
On his way out, Peter turned back and took a last look at the burning ruins of Malfoy Manor. Even in his reduced state, his master's fury was something to behold, and he had not taken well to Lucius's confession - dragged out of him by means that still made Peter shudder - that he'd thrown away a piece of his master's immortal soul in a feeble attempt to get revenge on a bunch of dirt-poor blood-traitors. And botched it.
Oh, Lucius hadn't known it was a piece of his master's immortal soul, but that hadn't saved him in the end. Nor had his last desperate plea for the Dark Lord to take pity on his family saved his wife. Draco had been spared, for the moment, only because he remained within the walls of Hogwarts... and whether he survived beyond the end of the school year would depend on whether he had the good sense to humble himself and throw himself on Dumbledore's mercy. Of course, it wouldn't guarantee his survival - Peter knew better than most just how worthless Dumbledore's protection really was - but his life was forfeit otherwise.
Peter shook his head and scurried after Nagini. Poor bastard, that Lucius. He did feel sorry for the man. But it was far, far better to have the luxury of pitying these poor bastards than to be one of them.
The good news: there was still one Horcrux with which the Dark Lord could merge and thereby regain a measure of his old strength... well, one which was not embedded right in the middle of Dumbledore's stronghold. Peter would say that particular placement had been absolutely mental, except that it probably had something to do with the decades-long catastrophe that was Defense Against The Dark Arts at Hogwarts, so perhaps it was absolutely brilliant. (And still mental.)
The bad news: said Horcrux was at Gringotts. In a maximum-security vault. In the name of one of the few families that had remained totally loyal to the Dark Lord, yes... but whose surviving members were all in Azkaban.
What a bloody choice. Break into Gringotts or break into Azkaban. And the Dark Lord, with his bizarre phobias, still thought either of those options were better than "break into Hogwarts". Peter, who knew just how bad Hogwarts's security was, thought he was bloody mental... except for the little issue that Hogwarts did have genuinely terrible security, so there was nothing in particular keeping a certain mutt from booby-trapping all the secret entrances and lying in wait...
On second thought, Gringotts or Azkaban it was. And, given that he Siriusly had enough experience making an enemy of crazed sadists who considered vengeance to be a sacred virtue, that left him with the unkillable specters who drained all life and happiness from their victims and left them nothing but soulless, immobile husks... Basically just Professor Binns, then. That did explain why prisoners went insane within weeks. Even he would lose the will to live after a month of continual Lectures on the Goblin Rebellions.
Simple, then: storm the prison that had seen exactly one successful break-out in the entirety of its existence, extract a few prisoners who were probably drooling morons anyway at this point, and try not to get a sloppy wet smooch from the ugliest creatures this side of Germany on the way out. (Well, perhaps with one exception... there was his ex-girlfriend Dolly Umbridge. Wonder what happened to her?) Bloody wonderful plan, m'lord, how could it ever go wrong?
Was it too late to fake his death again? He'd heard Brazil was nice this time of year...