Author's Note: Harry is rather unheroic in this one. Written partially as a reaction to all the WBWL fics in which Harry manages to show up at the key canon plot climaxes, despite having not the slightest motivation to do so, just for the angst of his idiot brother (somehow) getting all the credit yet again.

Crackfic (though it does turn a little darker during the Deathly Hallows section). Those seeking a serious WBWL plot should look elsewhere.

Traditional WBWL-verse Dumbledore-bashing, twin-bashing, and Potters-bashing.

The idea of Voldemort being corrupted by getting the wrong person's blood is inspired by Harry Potter and the Champion's Champion, which has Voldemort receiving a severely undignified nerf by restoring himself to life with Idiot!Ron's blood rather than Harry's.

Rather cunning and resourceful, quite unlike your brother. Hmm. And a thirst to distinguish yourself, too. I daresay-

Not Slytherin, please, Harry Potter thought, shutting his eyes.

Why not?

It will just give them all an excuse to label me "dark" and "evil", and I'd really like to not bother with that, thanks.

Well, you're bold enough; how about Gr-

Not a chance! Harry gave a sharp sigh. Seven years with that idiot? One of us won't make it out alive! Not Hufflepuff, either. They'd try to "reconcile" us, if I read them right, and that would be almost as bad.

Your intellect seems sufficient for Ravenclaw, the Hat admitted. But do you really want to make a decision that will affect you for seven years based on your brother?

Are you joking? It's the only way my life for the next seven years won't be based on my brother!

He really ought to help Al, Harry thought uncomfortably, raising his head from his homework and looking about. At this time of night, the Ravenclaw Common Room was nearly empty, with the remaining students being so obsessed with their own studies that they wouldn't notice if he sneaked out. Or brought a herd of elephants stampeding through.

And he had heard his idiot brother plotting with his cornies to stop Professor Quirrel. Never mind that, if the professor were truly malicious, a gaggle of firsties wouldn't stand a chance. And, if Dumbledore had botched his concealment of some crucial and secret item, that was entirely on his head. No, Gryffindors would be Gryffindors, and only he, with his extraordinary intelligence and talent, might be able to -

Harry shook his head vigorously and bent over his essay again. He'd reported the plans to both his Head of House and Gryffindor's, who had both dismissed it as childish grandstanding and waved off any legitimate concerns about Quirrel to boot. If they couldn't bother, why should he? He was a firstie! If he was going to start protecting children who, so far, had treated him as nothing but trash, he wanted a raise, and exemptions from three-foot essays due in three days!

(Dumbledore, patching up his half-dead namesake after a nasty run-in with Lord Voldemort's host, would puzzle over how his compulsion had seemed not to stick. Oh well. He would be more careful next time.)

House of the learned and intelligent, his ar- um, posterior!

His House, after initially proclaiming the Heir of Slytherin had to be a hoax and a fraud because everyone knew Slytherin's monster was just a myth, had joined the general hysteria of proclaiming him the Heir just because he had hissed a bit. First of all, one might wonder how he would have ended up as a Pureblood supremacist, growing up in a household with a Muggleborn mother. Second, he was the younger twin, so, if any Potter was the Heir of Slytherin, it would have been his brother - since the laws of Wizarding inheritance did not in fact check for individual magical talents like Parseltongue. Third, they'd been watching him closely for the better part of the year, so one'd think they'd have realized he wasn't behind the attacks that had occurred since then!

But no, they'd just used that as "proof" he was so sneaky and cunning that he'd somehow evaded his escort, or swapped himself out with a Polyjuiced double on a trip to the restroom, or Memory Charmed the current shift of student guards to believe they'd watched him the whole time - or any number of things!

It was easy to regard yourself as preternaturally intelligent and insightful when you simply ignored all evidence that contradicted your worldview!

The year hadn't been all bad. His persecution had brought him into contact with a firstie named Luna Lovegood, and they had bonded over their bullying by the House of the pigheaded and ignorant. It was rather nice, having somebody who interacted with him for himself and not for being the brother of the Boy-Who-Lived.

And so his current House-arrest (ha) wasn't so bad. He did have a nagging feeling that he ought to stage a daring break-out and try to save Ginny Weasley, who had gone missing, with one of the Heir's characteristically flamboyant notes-scrawled-in-blood proclaiming that her bones would lie in the Chamber of Secrets forever. (Maybe the Heir was his brother. The combination of compulsive attention-seeking and mortal incompetence at accomplishing stated goals did seem familiar) After all, he was the only Parselmouth he knew of, and that probably was a requirement to enter the Chamber, wherever it was...

He gave a great sigh of disgust, provoking suspicious looks from his self-proclaimed guards, and paged through his Charms textbook. Right, because nothing about this situation screamed "Weasley's already dead and the murderer's using her as bait for would-be heroes". Oh, wait - everything did. Why write a note like that otherwise? Moaning Myrtle hadn't been too good to have her corpse just unceremoniously left on the bathroom floor. What made Ginny Weasley so special that her kidnapper would haul her all the way to the Chamber of Secrets, and courteously wait for rescuers to chase after her before finishing the job?

It just didn't add up. Oh, his brother might fall for it. Fortunately, his brother was no Parselmouth (or he was keeping it under tight wraps), so the most he could do would be to run around the school like a chicken with his head cut off before being caught and hauled back to the Gryffindor Common Room by a prefect or professor.

The only person Harry could probably help would be himself, and he would do that by sitting tight and having something resembling an alibi (his Housemates' conspiratorial delusions aside) when the Aurors came in to investigate.

(As he cleaned up after Tom's shade and resuscitated poor Miss Weasley, Dumbledore would reflect that he really ought to have taken a bit more time and asked Tom for pointers on this entire "compulsion" matter. It seemed so much harder than he remembered from his youth.

Honestly, having to do something himself? Even with Fawkes's aid, it was inconvenient. And it would have been so much more romantic to have a Parselmouth order the enchanted faucet to open the way to the Chamber, rather than being forced at last to take the horribly prosaic option of pointing the Elder Wand at it and blasting the hapless sink to kingdom come.)

The past year had been nice enough, minus the horrible soul-sucking monstrosities that passed for law enforcement. It was almost as though the Fates who dictated his life had abruptly lost the plot.

He had even learned something - even if his Uncle Remus had only agreed to tutor him because he was already tutoring his brother on the same subject. Really, Harry didn't see what Al had to be so dramatic about. It was almost like his brother was just overacting around Dementors for attention. But nah - it wasn't as though his entitled, fame-loving brat of a brother would ever do such a thing, was it? (Luna opined that his Wrackspurt infestation was likely acting up, and, if left untreated, was certain to cause loss of impulse control, cognitive deficits, and unusual grandiosity. When he'd asked her how anyone would tell the difference between that and Al's normal behavior, she'd serenely pointed out that it only proved his condition had gone untreated for far too long already.)

Mind, he himself had chosen to learn the Patronus Charm more out of self-defense than necessity. Dementors made one relive worst memories in vivid detail - in his case, being consistently pushed aside, downtrodden, and ignored in favor of his unworthy brother. However, he added new memories to that pool every day (with especial monotony during the summers), so he was completely used to that! In fact, the main effect of Dementors upon him was to make him resolve to redouble his focus upon his studies, so he could find a good job abroad and move to a saner country... Not that he'd admit that.

Besides, whether or not they affected him much wouldn't make one bit of difference if they ever caught him and laid upon his lips their lethal Kiss. Patronus tutoring should be mandatory, really. Why hadn't it been made so?

Oh, right, because the government liked menacing its citizens with the threat of unending damnation within a Dark creature's digestive tract. Yep, he really needed to look into moving.

For that reason, when the escaped Death Eaters began their assault on Hogwarts proper, he kept strictly inside Ravenclaw Tower, having persuaded the less senseless of his Housemates to form makeshift fortifications with the furniture avialable in the Common Room. Cowardly? Perhaps! But, under threat of Dark wizards, Dementors, or both, he wasn't about to go running around outside in search of adventure.

What was that? Fears that some other student (his idiot brother, for one) might have gotten caught outside? Worries that the professors might not be enough? Urges to put himself on the front lines?

Not a chance! If he, a third-year, could contribute anywhere near as much as trained adults, whatever his talents and strength - he was heading for the hills. And doing all he could to persuade Luna to go with him. Things like this didn't happen at Beauxbatons!

And, to the extent they happened at Durmstrang, the professors were at least equipped to deal with them.

(A disgruntled Dumbledore would conclude that, perhaps, there was just something wrong with the younger Mr. Potter. He seemed wholly uninterested in heroism (quite unlike his charming brother) and immune to the slightest suggestion of brotherly concern.

Well, he could deal with that. If Harry refused to venture down the road of a self-sacrificing destiny on his own, he could arrange to have him pushed...)

"So, Harry, I must say it's a pleasure speaking to you. You're far brighter, politer, and generally more charming than your brother."

"And I'd call you a natural at buttering people up, but that would be insulting the uncounted hours of effort you've put into perfecting your art. I've heard it takes thousands of hours of study to truly master a subject..."

"And don't I know it. Well, if flattery will get me nowhere, that's enough chit chat, then. May I ask what drove you to enter your name in the Tournament?"

"Since you're a true connoisseuse of rumors and gossip, you'll doubtless know I've insisted from the start that I didn't enter it. And I didn't. Look, you've interviewed my brother; if you don't believe me for any other reason, can you at least consider that I knew he'd be wheedling and begging Dumbledore to somehow get him in, and I didn't even want to risk having to put up with him for several months of competition?"

"I'll pretend you said that off the record, Mr. Potter. Also off the record, I agree. But, back on the subject of the Tournament - what do you say to the accusations you used Dark magic to complete the First Task?"

"That the judges know very well that wasn't an instance of Dark Arts. I used a very powerful healing spell on the dragon to purge the organizers' sedative from her system-"

"How did you know she was sedated, Mr. Potter?"

"A nesting mother, oblivious to both the foreign object in her nest and the swarm of strange, loud bipeds all around her? Please. The poor girl was drugged out of her wits. My brother's solution should have confirmed it to any doubters - a nesting mother too preoccupied by a snack to notice an intruder darting towards her eggs is a nesting mother whose bloodline will shortly perish. All I did was cure the poor creature, whereupon she immediately removed the foreign object from her nest - it might have been an egg-stealer in disguise! - and became violently agitated by the chittering hordes that had surrounded her while she lay unawares. By which I mean, of course, the audience."

"Don't you think that was endangering the crowd? It took all three Headmasters and several handlers to subdue her."

"Not to put too fine a point on it, Miss Skeeter, but anyone voluntarily attending the spectacle of provoking four separate nesting mothers in quick succession should be involuntarily induced to attend an emergency consultation with a Mind-Healer."

"Mr. Potter, there were hundreds of people in attendance."

"And that bothers me more than I can express, Miss Skeeter. Anyway, I'm sure that's not your only question."

"Of course - what is your comment, if any, on the accusations that you cheated on the Second Task?"

"I did nothing of the sort, madam. The golden eggs we recovered from the First Task, when opened, spouted a Mermish poem briefly summarizing the Second Task. My friend Luna immediately recognized the language and translated the poem, and I found the threatened endangerment of "what I'd miss the most" highly offensive. So I visited the Lake and, with Luna acting as translator, described in great detail what I would do if "what I'd miss the most" came to any harm as a result of any actions in which the local Merpeople willingly participated. The Merpeople confirmed that they understood, accordingly returned Luna immediately upon her kidnapping by the Triwizard organizers as part of the Second Task, and were thanked for their decent and civilized conduct - far more civilized than that of the organizers, I might add. That this completed the Second Task without my so much as entering the water was incidental.

"I fail to see how that should be considered 'cheating', as we recovered the eggs a full three months in advance. I am under the impression, based on Viktor Krum and Fleur Delacour's accounts, that decoding the poem and acting upon the information contained therein was meant as an essential part of preparation for the Second Task. I did so. Just because my actions were taken two months in advance makes them no less a valid solution than the actions taken on the same day as the Second Task."

"I see. Incidentally, did you have any part in encouraging the Delacour family's lawsuit over Gabrielle Delacour's severe hypothermia and subsequent three-day coma?"

"Fleur would have realized immediately, if she were not overwhelmingly affected by her horror and guilt, that any organizers with the wits they were born with ought to have known that submerging a Veela, a creature of fire and air, in a freezing lake, the embodiment of water and earth, could not go well. That Gabrielle is only one-quarter Veela was offset by her extreme youth. All I did was calm her enough to be sensible and remind her of the basic elemental principles. I wasn't quite expecting her to whirl and attack the judges, but good Merlin, can I blame her? Honestly, she did Dumbledore a favor; scorching all his hair off may have been going a bit too far, but he did badly need a haircut..."

"Er, yes, I suppose that is one way to look at it. Mr. Potter, would you mind if I... slightly paraphrased your remarks? I acknowledge the fair points they contain, but the delicate sensibilities of the public, you must understand..."

"Miss Skeeter, let's be frank - we both know you'll do it anyway, so go wild. I've studied a year or two ahead of my classes in some of my Hogwarts subjects, so I'll gladly conjure a mustache for me to twirl if you like."

"And, while we're being frank, if I wanted a photo of you doing so, I wouldn't need to wait for you to do the conjuring. I suppose I should thank you for the thought, anyway. On a more serious subject, Mr. Potter, I do have a last question for you, and I have to say, it's absolutely baffling me..."


"Why did you set this interview for this particular date and time? Surely you were well aware that you should be attending the Third Task as we speak?"

"Oh, heh, about that - but I apologize, Miss Skeeter, you seem genuinely concerned for me. May we step outside? ...very good. Right, then, so if you'll let me move away the covering-"

"A hidden trapdoor? Mr. Potter - are you saying you intend to race back through this secret passage to Hogwarts?"

"To Hogwarts? Oh, but you're not nearly ambitious enough, Miss Skeeter. Do you realize the organizers have been growing the hedge maze central to the Third Task for a month?"

"Ah, not until you informed me..."

"Well, they have. And, as you might guess, they've protected it both from Champions just blasting their way through the hedges and from aerial assaults. A nicely cheater-proofed system, eh?"

"I suppose..."

"Well, that would be supposing wrong. As I said, the location's been known for a month. Would it help if I told you this tunnel was freshly-dug?"

"Mr. Potter, I believe I must be misunderstanding."

"Oh no, the look on your face says you've got it. Mind, I didn't do all this myself - mostly, I commissoned some very talented young men with more ingenuity than money, and they did a fantastic job."

"Surely this..."

"Is cheating? I assure you I haven't tampered with the actual hedge maze, or the obstacles within, at all. Occasionally we poked our heads up to get a look around while we were trying to get a gauge for where to properly end the tunnel, but we always repaired the ground properly when we were done. No Champion's going to stumble into a sudden pitfall as a result of our efforts. And, in fact, I'm not even going to use it to complete the Task."

"You're not?"

"No. I'm going to enter the tunnel - and I'd like you to accompany me, for posterity - but I'm not going to so much as touch the Triwizard Cup. As I've insisted from the start, I'm an illegitimate contestant, and I'm not going to claim victory over a contest in which I had no place in the first place. I'm merely going to go down the tunnel, blast open the ground right above me when I arrive directly beneath the center of the maze, and wander over to the Cup - then turn back, hop down the hole and repair the ground, and depart. As I said, I won't claim victory, but I'll have proved that, if I'd wanted to, I could have, and well before the others were anywhere close.

"It will incidentally count as sufficient participation to satisfy the magic of the Triwizard Tournament, but that's not the point. Anyway - as I was saying, Miss Skeeter, want to come along?"

"Well... it is a scoop I'll get nowhere else..."

(Dumbledore would bitterly regret not being more specific in his compulsion on young Harry to do all he could to reach the center before the other competitors.

Oh well. His namesake managed to both fulfill the role of the necessary sacrifice (so that Lord Voldemort might once again take on the flesh, with all its fleshly vulnerabilities) and, through sheer luck and chance, survive. While it meant that Al Potter would not be bravely mourning the savage murder of his tragically deceased twin, and thus prepared to make a public speech on his great and terrible resolve to end the threat of the Dark Lord by any means necessary, it... might frankly do more to motivate Al than the original plan. After all, what would have motivated the young Albus Dumbledore more? The death of his under-appreciative, unlikable younger brother, or his own hide having been placed in mortal danger?

Hm... that was actually a rather awkward question... )

As Peter Pettigrew dragged in the freshest pallet of magazines featuring the Dark Lord on their covers, he wondered about the possibilities of quitting this job. The old Dark Lord had been one thing. This incarnation... seemed rather unprofessional.

If not for his serpentine face, he would seem the very image of a swaggering celebrity - smirking into a mirror, a groupie draped over each arm. Well, once one realized Nagini counted as a "groupie" by the Dark Lord's disturbing standards, and Peter supposed she might be crooning sweet nothings incessantly in his ear. It was hard to tell in Parseltongue. Bellatrix, on the other arm, seemed at last to have found happiness in life, and was gazing up at the snakelike face with undiluted affection. Coming from her, the look was rather disturbing and sickening, actually.

Well, it was better than the day when he had come in to find an obviously-stressed Lucius attempting to fill the same role. The worst part had been that, after thirteen years in Azkaban, Lucius had actually been prettier.

Peter pushed the pallet forward and abased himself before the Dark Lord. "Milord," he began, and received not even the customary flicker of acknowledgement. "Er - milord? Milord?"

"Not now, Wormtail. You should know, it's very difficult, being a Dark Lord," Voldemort sighed dramatically. "Having to deal with all my fans and followers. Someone like you could never fathom the stressful life of a celebrity."

"Of course not, milord. The efforts you make for us all render me... speechless." Indeed, he was without words. He knew he should have put effort into kidnapping Harry. The younger Potter twin was clearly the one with an IQ higher than a goldfish's. But had anyone listened to him? No. It had to be Albus Potter, and it had to be through the entire cockamamie scheme of the Triwizard Tournament, rather than just Stunning him during a trip to Hogsmeade and Apparating away.

If he was just going to be bossed around by arrogant dunces, he might as well have stuck with James and Sirius...

"Bella, we need to attack Witch Weekly's main office," the Dark Lord remarked, plucking a magazine off the pile and leafing through it. "Their artist's depiction caught me from my bad side, and they only dedicate half of the issue to talking about my return. It should be at least two-thirds. Don't you think I'm more important than Celestina Warbeck's wardrobe malfunction?"

"Of course you are, milord!" squealed the great and mighty Bellatrix Lestrange, feared torturer of the Longbottom and slayer of the McKinnons. "The half-blood slag doesn't even have much to display!"

Kill him. Now. Please. Nagini could eat him for all he cared.

"Milord," Peter ventured hopefully, wondering if an interruption might earn him such a merciful fate, "I have... urgent news... on that thing you requested..."

"Urgent?" snarled Voldemort, momentarily sounding like his old self. "I shall determine what is urgent, Wormtail! And this is a matter of the utmost importance! I cannot allow a passel of vapid fools to tarnish my image! Lord Voldemort must always receive the lion's share of all attention! Don't they know who I am?" Nagini slithered around his shoulders and began to make soothing hisses. 'Soothing hisses'? Good Merlin, somehow the ritual had rotted his brains out, too, and not just his Lord's. Albus Potter was contagious. "You should remember that, at least, Wormtail. Crucio."

One minor eternity of pain later, the Dark Lord said, "You may now speak."

Peter coughed into the carpet. The Malfoys had truly tacky taste, he observed. He reserved a place in his fantasy goodbye-letter for a paragraph of ranting at Lucius about the basics of good interior decoration, then cleared his throat and spoke. "Milord, Thorne Greengrass's daughter has returned from her assignment."

The Dark Lord buffed his nails on his cloak. "Which was..."

"Er... to seduce Albus Potter's brother, milord. You know. Harry."

"Is that all?" The Dark Lord sneered. "He's not important. How many covers of Witch Weekly has he been on? None, I bet. Lord Voldemort has been on far more. In fact, when Diagon Alley is conquered, Lord Voldemort should mandate painting of fifty-foot portraits of his wise and glorious self on all the buildings. That way, he may adequately grace the hoi polloi with his presence, and thus enrich their pitiful lives. Bella, make a note of that. It is by far Lord Voldemort's most brilliant idea yet."

Yes, using Albus Potter's blood had definitely been a mistake.

"Er... but it was your brilliant idea, milord, that had Greengrass send his daughter to seduce Harry. Because, being disaffected with Dumbledore's side, he might be induced to give up the prophecy, and -"

"It was Lord Voldemort's idea? Why did you not say so?" the Dark Lord interrupted. "Enough dawdling, Wormtail. Tell Lord Voldemort instantly of this discovery."

Peter resisted the urge to grind his teeth. "Harry informed Daphne Greengrass that he was flattered, but he wasn't interested, on account of already having a girlfriend. However," he went on hastily, "he told her he was happy to tell her the rest of the prophecy, anyway, since it had no useful information whatsoever."


"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches... born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies … and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not … and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives. … The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies," Peter recited.

"Whatever do you mean, 'no useful information whatsoever'? That is incredibly useful! Crucio!"

Surely there had to be better jobs. Drain-cleaners. Goblin footrest. Owner of a Dementor harem.

"I was merely quoting Harry Potter, milord," he croaked when he could speak again. "His reasoning was, Daphne said, as follows.

"You already knew the first, identifying part.

"The next sentence just states that you would mark him as your equal. Prophecy being what it is, that could be retroactively justified as most anything. You have already made your mark on much of England in one way or another, and anyone capable of vanquishing you would be considered your equal in one way or another, so you would be deemed to have 'marked him as your equal' in one way or another. The Oracle of Delphi was a tourist trap, Harry remarked, not an effective advisor.

"The 'power the Dark Lord knows not' could likewise also be retroactively justified to be anything. After all, since you are unmatched in your manifold fields of expertise, anyone successfully vanquishing you would have to bring in some power you know not. But it's completely useless anyway, since you're guaranteed not to know what power you know not, so you couldn't work out a counter to it!"

"But what of the line after that?" the Dark Lord hissed. "Surely that is important!"

"Actually, it's a sloppily-worded line that half-made Harry wonder if the prophecy was all a load of bilge cooked up by Trelawney that only an idiot would believe. Of course I would not ever think such a thing, milord," Peter said hastily to the world's second-biggest believer in the prophecy (perhaps biggest, if Dumbledore was just bluffing). "A manifest absurdity.

"But, um, I will repeat the reasoning. Either must die at the hand of the other. Very unhelpful - prophets make a living off of tortured wording and alternative interpretations, so it could be referring to some random other - Dumbledore, for instance. In that case, it just would mean that either you or Albus Potter would have to die at Dumbledore's hand. Or Grindelwald's. Or McGonagall's. Or Filch's. Or Tom the barman's-"

For the love of sweet Merlin, what in the world had set off that round of the Cruciatus? On top of all his other sensitivities, the Dark Lord was allergic to the name Tom?

Peter mopped the drool away from his mouth, uncrossed his eyes, and resumed. "Ah - all I was saying, milord, was that the other might be someone wholly separate. In which case, the prophecy is useless, since it gives no hints for identifying the other.

"But suppose it isn't. Er - milord, both you and Albus Potter are alive and well, despite 'the other' surviving. Indeed, that's what gave Harry Potter such trouble - Neither can live while the other survives. 'Neither can die while the other survives' would be intriguing and encourage a truce. 'Neither will live if the other survives' seems to get across the intended point much better. Potter noted that it would really all make sense if Trelawney was a lying, conning drunk and botched her phrasing in her haste to get through a pre-prepared "prophecy", or got a bit mixed up while confabulating on the spot.

"But that's of course not the case, milord, so... er... perhaps it would be best if we stopped fussing about the prophecy - " They'd already wasted the year trying to retrieve it from the Department of Mysteries - "-and moved on with the entire 'conquering England' thing-"

"Nonsense, Wormtail," Voldemort sneered. "I admit, the meaning of that particular line does not immediately present itself to me..."

Oh, good. At least he was admitting to possible fault. Progress?

" I shall assign the most skilled Death Eaters to interpreting it."

Oh, bugger!

"They shall doubtless have a result within a few months," said the Dark Lord, returning to leafing through Witch Weekly. "Also, Bella, we must murder the editors for not considering me the Sexiest Wizard Alive. Viktor Krum - pah! Absurd; he has far too prominent a nose, and all that hair is strictly unnecessary. Furthermore, while he is properly pale, he has failed to attain the finest papery shade..."

(Truly young Harry had fallen, if he could not comprehend the importance of keeping the prophecy secret.

Which was... er... well...

Well, perhaps Dumbledore could not remember quite at this moment, but he was certain there was a reason! Damned senior moments...)

Despite himself, Harry seemed to have invented the most potent spell against Lord Voldemort's forces the war had yet seen.

He had termed it the Sleeve-Scrunching Charm.

Its action was ludicrously simple: all it did was cause someone's sleeve to fly up, baring their forearm. More advanced variants, which he invented within twenty-four hours after debuting the original charm, included causing the target's arm to jerk out, so as to forcibly expose the interior of their forearm, and applying various cleansing and anti-concealment spells to their forearm, in case the target had the intellect of a turnip.

The initial deployment caught the Slytherin Draco Malfoy at Hogwarts and, later that day, half a dozen Death Eaters in the Ministry. The more advanced versions caught even more. And to think, he'd come up with the initial spell as a laugh, to prove to himself Death Eaters couldn't possibly be that stupid.

What was wrong with the Wizarding community of England? Harry didn't know, but he wasn't sticking around to find out. He and Luna had already finished their Beauxbatons transfer applications, and were helping a few other sentient students with theirs. Since his family blessedly didn't much care for him, he figured he could persuade them to let him go, paying the Beauxbatons tuition himself out of his trust vault. Damned if he was sticking around for this passel of idiots!

It didn't help that he was sore about Dumbledore lecturing him about having ruined Malfoy's life and deprived him of the opportunity for reformation. There had been murder attempts on people at the school. Was he supposed to believe they were unrelated to the local schoolboy Death Eater?

The response that none of them had actually succeeded, so they were not such a great matter, had floored him. Beauxbatons, here he came! Or Durmstrang, in a pinch. That school had not struck him as one to enter a plea of "Not guilty, on grounds of terminal incompetence". If anything, the Dark-accepting academy would probably judge the matter extra-harshly, since Malfoy'd been too stupid even to pull it off...

Well, speak of the devil. Harry's contemplation of incompetence had led him to nearly bump into his brother. "Oi, watch where you're going, you rotten glory-grabber," Al sneered, crossing his arms.

Normally Harry couldn't have cared less for the workings of his twin's incoherent mind, but this time he had to ask. "Glory-grabber? Where'd that come from?"

"I knew Malfoy was a Death Eater first," the auburn-haired idiot declared. "But I was being thorough and looking for evidence, and you just had to butt in!"

"Ah..." Harry said delicately. "You didn't consider looking on his forearm?"

Al sneered. "We're clearly in the wrong Houses. I was building a case, and you just went for his forearm like a boor. Did it occur to you I was too good for that?"

Too good for that, and schoolwork, and rudimentary cognition, and occasionally basic hygiene. "That's nice, Al." Harry tried to walk around Al, but his brother moved to block him.

"Oh, I know you're just jealous," Al proclaimed. "You've always envied me for being the Boy-Who-Lived, when you were just a leftover."

Somehow, he'd gotten over that when he'd realized Al had gotten all the fame and he'd gotten all the brains. "Don't worry, I've gotten used to it."

"Ha. As if you could. I mean, how many covers of Witch Weekly have you been on?"

None, praise Merlin! "Mm-hmm," Harry murmured, attempting to dodge around Al again. But his brother wouldn't let him go.

"And how much tutoring have you received from Albus Dumbledore himself?"

That got Harry's attention. "Excuse me? Tutoring?" Maybe Dumbledore was taking the war effort seriously-

"That's right. And I'm not going to tell you what I'm learning." Al sneered, turned on his heel, and paused. "Actually," he said, glancing over his shoulder, "I suppose I might as well tell you. Just so you know what you're missing."

Harry listened attentively.

"We're reviewing memories of Voldemort's youth in chronological order. Hah! Beat that!"

Er... what? "You... mean you're studying his tactics and methods?" Harry ventured.

"No, we're reviewing his childhood! And then, afterwards, Dumbledore tells me what I was supposed to have learned! It's not always clear, even for someone with my smarts."

"Er... so what, precisely, prevents him from just telling you outright, rather than having to sit through the memories beforehand?"

A blank look swept across Al's face, before he shook his head and looked angrily at Harry. "Oh, I don't expect someone like you to understand! Anyway, that reminds me. I need to get a memory out of Slughorn about Voldemort visiting him during office hours. I always knew seeing a professor outside of class was evil." And with that, he ran off.

Harry looked after him in puzzlement. Had they really just had that conversation?

(Dumbledore was immensely pleased by how much more ductile his namesake was than his brother. Pity he wasn't the Horcrux - He would not have needed coercion to march obediently to his death when the time came.

It almost made up for the tragic loss of Draco Malfoy, who had so much potential. Particularly if he could have been persuaded to perm his hair and learn a bit of German.)

Hellfire and damnation!

Why his parents had insisted on blocking his transfer, Harry would never know.

Damned authority of the paterfamilias. It wasn't what it was cracked up to be in Wizards' Own Adventure pulp novels. All very well and good if you were the eldest living male in the line of succession, but if your father was still alive? Mainly evidence that the Wizarding world had never quite gotten over the fall of the Roman Empire.

And so, even though he was of age, he was stuck in the middle of a civil war in a society with an average IQ beneath room temperature.

Since he didn't much like the idea of either himself or Luna dying, he set about trying to figure out how to finish the war as soon as possible. His brother didn't exactly give off the impression of being able to defeat a Dark Lord, prophecy-of-dubious-veracity or not.

So he'd cornered his brother at Order headquarters and smacked the secret of Voldemort's survival out of him. Oh, initially Al had refused, whining that it was between him and Dumbledore, but mercifully the idiot was a poor enough Gryffindor to respond to threats. (Harry had absolutely no faith in Dumbledore's competence to make basic decisions, since he'd been quite ready to say goodbye to this cruel and benighted world before Harry's mother, even as the debauched socialite that she'd become, had the basic common sense to point out he could just cut the afflicted arm off.)

Apparently Voldemort had, as a student, gotten it into his head to play Koschei the Deathless. Except that he'd decided to go a step further and split his soul into seven parts.

Now, at this point, the Dark Lord might have been advised to wonder why Koschei had gambled all on one soul piece. The Slavic Dark Lord had not been squeamish. Nor had he been stupid. It was almost as though he'd weighed the trade-offs and decided that the disadvantages of multiple soul pieces just weren't worth it...

Nah, clearly it would work out. Full steam ahead!

So, where to look for pieces of the Dark Lord's soul? Strangely, reviewing Voldemort's memories actually hadn't helped the Albi that much. It was almost as though that had been a huge waste of time...

But enough of them. First came figuring out how many pieces had already been destroyed - Al had admitted two pieces were already gone, and the massive sweep the Aurors had conducted of that "Room of Hidden Things" to which their interrogation of Malfoy had tipped them off had found that one "unspeakably Dark" artifact they'd pulverized without further ado. Three down.

Second came asking around for any resources that might help destroy valued relics of the Dark Lord - and, much to everyone's astonishment, Uncle Sirius's psychopathic little House-Elf had immediately popped out and returned with a locket that just so happened to contain a piece of Dark Lord. Dumb luck?

Third was scrutinizing "tells" from the Death Eaters who might have a piece in their possession - oh, and look, Bellatrix Lestrange had spent her trial loudly bragging that she absolutely knew the Dark Lord would return. Thanks, Bella dear. Between her and Al, one might actually scrounge up two brain cells to rub together.

The goblins, once tipped off to the possible presence of a chunk of Dark Lord soul in the Lestrange vault, had immediately swept the vault and, upon finding the object in question, had destroyed it posthaste. Because they were morally offended by such an abominable creation? Of course not! Because the piece of soul might have eventually possessed a passing goblin official or vault guard, and thus had the potential to run the biggest heist in Gringotts history!

Whatever one might think of the goblins, one had to admit they had consistent priorities.

And that left just the snake.

And he hadn't even needed to leave Order headquarters; the goblins had been contacted via owl. It was marvelous what one could accomplish when one used a bit of logic.

In fact, the only way it could have gone better is if his worthless brother hadn't walked up behind him while he was revising snake-killing plans and cast the Killing Curse.

"And that," Dumbledore proclaimed, "is the Power The Dark Lord Knows Not. The selflessness and nobility of spirit to act as he had to act, to make the greatest of all sacrifices, to kill his twin when he would have gladly died in his place -"

"Actually, it turns out my dear brother could screw up even the Killing Curse."

Dumbledore froze for a moment, as Albus Potter paled, and executed a flawless 180-degree turn to smile broadly at the cold-eyed wizard who had just entered the room. "Even though, as I was about to say, young Mr. Potter could not be certain you would survive," Dumbledore continued without a hitch. "And yet you are here with us, the contamination of the Dark Lord destroyed, and shall-"

"This does explain why you had my beloved parents bar me from leaving the country."

"Harry," James said anxiously, sporting the famous Potter grin, "you couldn't believe we would really want you killed, do you? Us? Your family-"

"James Potter," said Harry, "your voice irritates me. Would you like proof that I don't botch my spellwork?"

James shut his mouth; his wife was not stupid enough to open hers in the first place. Albus Potter looked at his brother nervously. "H-Harry," he said, holding his hands up. "No hard feelings, right? It was for the greater g-"

Harry seized his brother by the arm and Disapparated.

"I've brought Albus Potter," Harry called out as he arrived at Voldemort's lair, formerly known as Witch Weekly's central office. "He's all yours. Please don't send him back."

Voldemort himself was shortly notified, and, snake draped around his shoulders, he hustled out to inspect the prize. "Is this a trick?" he asked as he caught sight of Harry. "You would betray your own brother so readily?"

Harry smiled serenely as he heaved his Silenced, Body-Bound brother at the Dark Lord. "Honestly, I'd have taken him back to the hospital years ago, but I don't think they would have accepted him," he said casually, and thumbed the enchanted Galleon in his pocket. Go, go, go. He'd really been wondering what level of distraction would suffice to get Voldemort out into broad daylight, but this... this was just great.

Voldemort smirked, leaning over Al. "How does it feel, to know that I, thenceforth, shall grace every cover of Witch Weekly?" he inquired, and kicked him gleefully. "I, the greatest wizard of all time, the best-looking, the most-snakelike, the best Quidditch player to not use a broom - though I, of course, was the only one brilliant enough to invent such a technique -"

Good Merlin, the rumors were true. Al-ness was transmissible. Harry vowed to get checked for symptoms as soon as he'd crossed the English Channel. "I'll leave you to that, then," he said, and hastily retreated around the corner. He frowned as he inspected the dark alley into which he had fled. Good grief, where had all these paintings of Voldemort come from? Horribly tacky. And why were they set up to sparkle in the sunlight?

"So, Albus Potter," Voldemort said quietly, lifting the Silencing Charm and returning bodily control above the neck. "Do you have any last words?"

"That I can only pity you," Al sniffed, then coughed as he got a lungful of dirt. "After all, I know you're just doing this because you're jealous of my greatness."

"I? The Dark Lord? The greatest descendant of the greatest of the Founders? No, Potter, all are jealous of my greatness-"

"No, no, that's me. I'm a Peverell, you know. I bet I'm Master of Death, too. What's a Dark Lord compared to that? I-"

"Ah, but I have a lineage not belonging to the realm of children's tales. I have mastered death indeed; have I not returned from death? And -"

"Er," Al said, gaze flickering over Voldemort's shoulder. "What is that above you?"

Voldemort sneered. "That's not even the line, Potter. It's 'what's that behind y-'"

His words were choked off as the Sword of Gryffindor impaled snake and master in one single blow, and slammed into the ground a hair's-breadth from Al's head. Harry, from his observation point, scowled. So damn close... oh well.

"Great-Uncle Algie would be so disappointed I didn't bounce," Neville Longbottom remarked, resting his weight on the sword's hilt as he recovered from his midair Apparation and subsequent landing. He glanced at Al, now pasty-white and half-buried beneath dead Dark Lord and snake. "Oh, hello there, Albus. Load of help you were."

As Al made a whimpering noise, Harry emerged and saluted. "Perfectly executed, Neville," he remarked, striding forward. As he walked, there came a cavalcade of pops from inside the building; apparently the idea of making a courageous final stand was anathema to Death Eaters. He expected all of them would be claiming bewitchment by morning. Again.

There came a scream of "Get back here, you cowards!", followed by the sounds of a scuffle. Well, perhaps not all of them.

"Amazed it worked, really," Neville grunted, ignoring the sound.

"Just don't tell anyone that," Harry said, clapping him on the back. "Look at it this way - 'killer of England's most feared Dark Lord' is bound to look good on your Beauxbatons application."

Neville brightened. "I could put it on, couldn't I?"

Harry had met Neville Longbottom while leading emergency Defense OWL cramming sessions in fifth year (as the professor was so execrable that the majority of the year would fail if nothing was done); though the Gryffindor had started out as one of the worst students, he had shot to the head of the class with competent tutoring and, after scoring an Outstanding, had supervised cramming sessions for the subsequent year's OWL takers. After getting stuck in England, Harry had begun a correspondence with him, and planned out the now-successful Operation Sword-in-the-Snake.

Admittedly, the aerial assault had been meant only as a placeholder while they worked on a better plan, but still...

"You certainly could." Harry kicked Voldemort's corpse, incidentally hitting his traitorous brother in the process, and shrugged. "Well, I should be off, before the Order figures out where I went and chases after me as a secret Death Eater or some other rot." He gave a nod to Neville. "Say hello to your girlfriend for me." Harry had never quite gotten her name - some Granger girl.

"Same to you and Luna," Neville said, wrenching the Sword of Gryffindor free from the corpses. It dripped with some ugly-looking black substance, something like tar. "Er - what do we do with him?"

Harry eyed his still-Bound brother and shrugged. "I don't really care," he said. "Leave him." Al's eyes widened.

"Y-You're not serious," he stammered. "I'm your br-"

Harry kicked him in the teeth. "Avada Kedavra isn't a brotherly greeting, you berk," he remarked, drawing a gasp from Neville. "And I don't think I'll be your brother even in name for long, since I'm certain I can bait James Potter into disowning me..." And thus relinquishing his authority as paterfamilias over him, allowing for flight from England. Once Harry would have hesitated at that last, irrevocable separation, out of some lingering sentimental attachment or childish hope of reconciliation. But his sentiment towards the Potters had vanished, swallowed up by a flash of acid-green light. "And, as such, you may go to Hell for all I care."

With a last wave to Neville, he Disapparated, and Neville soon followed suit.

("Anyone?" Al called, shaking his head frantically. "Help me! Anyone?"

A shadowed silhouette appeared in the doorway of Witch Weekly's former office building, and Al's eyes bulged as it emerged into sunlight, wand in hand: Bellatrix Lestrange, who took in the sight of his prone form, beneath her slain Lord, with an expression most murderous.

"Oh bugger...")