Amelia Bones looked at Fudge flatly in the Minister's office. "I'm sorry, Minister, but I thought I just heard you utter something completely and utterly insane. That you have allowed for Umbridge's release, despite my telling Tonks and Shacklebolt to show you Pensieve memories of the circumstances leading up to her arrest."
Fudge puffed himself up from where he was seated, doing an impressive impression of Umbridge. "You overstepped your bounds, Amelia…"
"You overstepped yours, Fudge. You have no right or authority to overturn an arrest. In fact, you have a bad habit of assuming the powers of an Auror or the Head of the DMLE for your own. Sending Rubeus Hagrid to Azkaban, for example, rather than a Ministry holding cell. Allowing Barty Crouch Junior to be Kissed, rather than having him brought into custody."
"I am the Minister of Magic!"
"And you are not above the law!"
"I am the law! I am the Minister of Magic, and whatever I say, goes!"
Amelia Bones shook her head. Learning about Umbridge being released, and by that puffed-up pedant Percy Weasley, was the cap on an aggravating day. This was just making things worse. "Oh? And what would you suggest done about the Death Eaters caught at Hogsmeade abducting and murdering people? To say nothing of these rogue Servants?"
"Be silent!" Fudge snapped. "Umbridge has told me about your little deal with Chaldea, and you are working with them to help Dumbledore overthrow me!"
Amelia's patience, already frayed, finally snapped. "For Merlin's sake, Fudge, are you listening to yourself? Can you listen to anyone other than either those telling you what you want to hear, or lining your damned pockets? No, you're just a damned coward who cannot countenance the possibility that you are wrong because that would mean admitting you're fallible. And unless the Wizengamot votes to grant you emergency powers, then you cannot override me in such a manner, to say little of actually firing me without due cause or notice."
Fudge scowled. "Then I shall just have to get them, won't I? It's about time someone did something about those who stand in the way of good governance."
"Then do something about yourself, Fudge," Amelia said. "You are the complete opposite of good governance, fiddling while Rome burns, but even Nero would do something more than you are doing!"
In her quarters at Chaldea, a whole universe away, a blonde-haired and green-eyed young woman sneezed, and then blinked. "Umu? Can Servants get colds?" she mused.
"How dare you?! You are stirring up trouble where there needn't be any!" Fudge snapped. "Chaldea is the one causing the problems, to ensure they're seen as saviours! But they know how to travel in time, more than our time-turners can. Who's to say they're not using this place as a beachhead to rewrite our history, to ensure their Magus Association, who are collectively more cruel than any of our fine wizards and witches, can take over?"
That…while insane, had a point. Da Vinci, Harry and Ritsuka had warned Amelia that Magi in general were considerably more amoral than wizards here. It came from their obsession with reaching the Root, Akasha, the source and origin of all things. However, they also revealed something else. "Chaldea is in danger from the Magus Association, Fudge, despite working to stop the Demon Pillars. I am keeping an eye on them, in case they do turn out to be a threat, as I am not stupid. But you are showing yourself to be just that. And yet, you seem to have a dangerous amount of information about Chaldea and the Magus Association. If you do press the issue and force my resignation Fudge, not only will I have Rufus take my place, as is my prerogative, but I will ensure that a vote of no confidence is mooted against you in the Wizengamot, or at least call for a new Minister to be elected. In any case, I have to wonder at your sources. Who is telling you that Chaldea is the enemy?"
"I don't have to tell you that!"
"Then let this be your final warning, Fudge. Stay out of my investigations from now on. You have no right to interfere with them, and if you press the issue, I will ensure your victory is a pyrrhic one."
Her cold tone and words seemed to finally halt the petulant, childish conniption of the man, too little, too late. "…What does that mean?"
"It means that even if I lose, you'll bitterly regret it," Amelia said, before she turned and left.
That wasn't like her, normally. She was usually more calm and collected, but dealing with Fudge and his continual interference, to say nothing of that of Umbridge and, recently, Percy Weasley (how an officious, anal-retentive bastard like him ever was sired by the likes of Arthur and Molly, she had no idea), had worn down some of her patience. The incidents that occurred due to the Servants and the Death Eaters only accelerated the decay of her usual patience and endurance.
Still, the Chaldeans' words stuck in her mind. Two Demon Pillars existed in this world, possibly in positions of power. She doubted Fudge would be one of them. Umbridge? She probably would have revealed herself sooner, and in any case, that seemed too obvious. In fact, there were a plethora of suspects, and not enough evidence.
She was so preoccupied with her thoughts, she didn't notice the elderly man in front of her until it was too late. He bumped into her, and they toppled over to the ground, the old man on top of her. She saw a spell pass overhead. She scrambled around from underneath him, before looking back the way she had come. She thought she saw a shadowy figure duck away down the corridor, too far to pursue in her current state. "Trying to curse me in the halls of the Ministry? Someone's getting bold," she muttered, before helping the old man to his feet.
She was surprised at the man. Despite his age, his body was firm, having the undeniable sense of strength to it. His features were not truly distinguished, his hair brown but peppered with grey, a thick beard, and his eyes peered at her sharply. She had the sense of someone both infinitely old and yet still as vital as the strongest young person.
"A place of governance is like any living thing, prone to indolence, rot and disease," the man said in a deep, resonant voice. "Sometimes, it even turns on those who seek to protect it from threats both without and within. My thanks to you. Compassion without reason and shame without cause are vices, not virtues. But I thank you for helping me."
"…Did you ever need help? You meeting me here wasn't a coincidence."
"Your eyes and mind are as keen as the edge of the finest blade. However, while my presence here with you was coincidence, my presence here, as with anyone within the Ministry of Magic, visitor or worker, is not. I had business here, and happened to sense the attempt on your life. Your erstwhile killer cannot hide their killing intent, like the mist that shrouds the boundary between life and death. I must go, for I have other business. Be ever vigilant."
As he made to leave, Amelia frowned. "And what is your name? You saved Amelia Bones, Director of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement."
The old man looked back at her, and gave a slight smile. "…If you must have a name, it is Ziusudra…"
Da Vinci frowned as King Hassan made his report not long afterwards. "There's a prophecy relating to Harry and Voldemort in the Department of Mysteries?"
"Aye," King Hassan said via the comms link. "Their defences are good, preventing most from removing it, but I was able to do so. Black and Lupin brought up the possibility of a prophecy, as they vaguely recalled hearing something about it in discussion with Harry's parents. I have removed the defences, listened to the prophecy, and then left. The defences are renewing, so any fool who touches the prophecy will be in for a rude awakening." He then recited the prophecy, as well as any details.
Da Vinci frowned. "It seems ambiguous. Leaving aside birthdates and the like, there would be other children born around the same time. If there's anything to this, Voldemort only ensured it by giving Harry the scar that 'marks him as his equal'."
"Mine thoughts were the same. Prophecy tends to ensnare those who wish to defy it the most, usually by killing the subject of said prophecy," King Hassan said. "However, the 'power he knows not'…it is potentially one of a legion of possibilities. One is obvious. Voldemort may not lack in charisma, but he lacks in empathy or truly valuing his followers. Harry, on the other hand, values friends and allies. The other is his potential as an embodied Heroic Spirit."
"True, but I do not intend to bank on such a thing. We've fought against fate and won, no matter what Goetia believed our destiny to be, we won't let this prophecy constrict us," Da Vinci said. "While it's a useful piece of intelligence, we won't rely on it."
"Prudent," King Hassan observed. "The Casters have not made much progress yet on formulating the ritual to put paid to Voldemort in one fell swoop. I would love nothing more than to take his head for what he did to the Stone of Calling, tainting it with his foul soul. Remind Harry and the others present at Hogwarts to search the Room of Requirement. Another Horcrux may be what we need."
"I'll remind them, but they have to be careful, lest our enemy target them. Remember, we have to assume that Hogwarts is enemy territory."
"And this blighted Ministry too," King Hassan said. "I feel the vague presence of those thrice-cursed Demon Pillars, but I cannot pinpoint them. Their stain is present here, that much mine senses tell me. The Demon Pillars, however, have only exacerbated and exploited the corruption and malice already present. Human weakness acts as a clarion call for their ilk."
"Do you think Madam Bones' would-be assassin one of them?"
"While possible, that woman has a plethora of enemies due to her most formidable conviction. The man I eventually caught before coming down to the Department was a mere bureaucrat, suffering from mental influence, presumably the Imperius, and he killed himself when I attempted to interrogate him. However, it means that whoever was behind this is bold enough to try to target a high-ranking figure. Their failure might mean that they are cautious, but I still believe that Gudao and his team would make good bodyguards."
"This is all we need," Da Vinci sighed. "A three-way, if not a four-way, clusterfuck between the Ministry, the Death Eaters, and us, with Dumbledore being a possible enemy."
"Tis never an easy labour to protect humanity, on any world," King Hassan said. It was perhaps his way of reassuring her.
And he was right. Even for those in Chaldea who weren't rayshifting, it was far from a cakewalk. They had to watch and worry, just in case the Fujimarus, and the later Masters, were killed, helpless to do much but offer support. In addition, the work needed to maintain a rayshifted person's existence when the World and other forces tried to act on it was not inconsiderable. The rayshift to Babylonia was a miracle in of itself, as they managed to get enough Servants to support the Masters, and not just Mash.
Da Vinci also knew, thanks to discussions she had with Sherlock, that there was trouble on the horizon. There were rumours that a private buyer was angling to take control of Chaldea, the last scion of the Musik clan. Thankfully, their cooperation with Clock Tower and the UN had bought them enough capital that they wouldn't be outright imprisoned, she hoped, but still…there were worrying signs that a storm was coming. Especially as the Musik heir had links to a rather shady NPC of unknown provenance, one that even a few contacts in the UN and Clock Tower were uneasy about.
She hoped that their little trump card, the Shadow Border APC and the back-up body of her dwelling within it, wouldn't be needed. But what kind of genius would she be if she didn't plan at least for some contingencies? And given the shit they'd been through, well, better to be prepared than not…
Harry stared at the diadem. He had found the Room of Requirement, and had found the Horcrux after much searching. Mary, having Deastralized to search alongside him, was glaring at it impressively. "A beautiful object, tainted by the soul of your nemesis," she muttered, even as she used gloves and a special Mokeskin pouch to contain it. "Voldemort has much to answer for."
"We'll have to have it sent over to 12 Grimmauld Place ASAP," Harry said. "Hopefully, this will give Merlin, Tamamo and Nitocris what's needed to put paid to him for good. Then again…that leaves the Demon Pillars, as well as any Death Eaters who decide to fight…and whoever's behind Archimedes."
Mary nodded, and the two left, unaware they had been watched by a figure, currently Astralized, a burly, bearded man. He sighed quietly to himself in regret. If only his Master was that boy instead of the one who summoned him. True, the boy would oppose his plans, but he would also be a better example. Rather like his Paladins, not the ones his shadow commanded, but the real ones. Righteous and forthright. And despite his Master engineering him to be in a loveless household, Harry had maintained a capacity to feel love. How else would you explain the strong bond between him and the Saracen girl? He didn't begrudge them, any more than he begrudged the relationship between Bradamante and Ruggiero, which did happen, even if not quite like the tales.
Still, Karl Magnus Rex reflected, Harry Potter was an enemy. Sooner or later, he would have to be stopped, and hopefully, brought into the fold. Of course, if need be, he would be destroyed. With the deepest of regret, true, but as the cliché went, one couldn't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs…
"He's not a fighter," observed a young man with red hair and golden eyes, as he and Charlemagne walked across the courtyard of Charlemagne's fortress. "I wouldn't go so far as to call him a coward, but he is a man who detests fighting, and only does it when he thinks it is necessary, not when it actually is."
Charlemagne rubbed his head. "Yeesh. I mean, I get what you're saying, but seriously, old timer, a bit harsh, don't you think? You come out of your forge, just to say that?"
"Good medicine tastes bitter. It's a truism held both in the east and the west," the young man said. "Besides, I'm not known for my social graces, and he's old enough to not wail like a brat when I tell him that. Then again, the man's broken. A betrayal from one he loved, one who chucked him into a dungeon and threw away the key…I've seen men like him before. I made swords, and I have seen many of those who wield them. Fools who wanted to be Musashi Miyamoto, before he or she even lived, spoilt rich boys paying for fine swords they would never look after, bloodthirsty idiots who wouldn't know what bushido was if it bit them in the arse…" The young man pinched the bridge of his nose. "Lord Masamune would be turning in his grave, I thought then, and now. But I also met many warriors who fought one battle too many, ronin who were betrayed for little reason by their lords…he's like them."
"Yeah. You never actually smithed a weapon, did you, Charlemagne? You may have wielded them, but forged one?" When Charlemagne shook his head, the young man said, "I didn't think so. While my methods of forging a blade are different to those you have in Europe, I am sure your finest smiths would need to think of how to create a strong blade, mindful of how a single flaw, even a small one, can have catastrophic results. Well, until plate armour came along in earnest, and what they needed was not a blade that cut, but a pig-sticker that could go through armour."
Charlemagne nodded. "The Grail told me of an incident, more of an apocryphal story, when Richard the Lionheart and Saladin supposedly met, and demonstrated their respective swords. Richard used his sword to smash right through a table, while Saladin used his Damascus Steel blade to cut through a silk handkerchief in mid-air."
"And in real life, Richard, while in battle, swatted an enemy with the flat of his sword, only to break it," the young man said. "Something shattered your new Master, and I don't know whether anything can reforge him."
"Yeesh, old timer. People ain't like swords."
"Exactly. You can actually reforge a sword, melt it down and start again. But people…it's a lot harder to put the pieces back together. Sometimes, you never can. Still…Chaldea will be coming soon. Let's just hope your other self doesn't try hard enough to stop them…"
CHAPTER 19 ANNOTATIONS:
Another bit of an interlude chapter, but with Bones in trouble with Fudge and those behind him. And Karl Magnus Rex showing his moral complexity. Oh, and who's this with Charlemagne? The next chapter, hopefully, will have the big reveal…one most of you have already guessed, but still…
Incidentally, while the story about Richard and Saladin meeting and comparing their swords is probably apocryphal, Richard breaking his sword while trying to slap his opponent with the flat of his sword did actually happen. To tell the truth, it happened because he was being an arrogant moron while on the way to the Crusades: he tried to confiscate a hawk from a peasant in Italy, believing that falconry was the sole preserve of the nobility. He had to fight his way out of a mob.
Also, Salem has been released. I have to say, story-wise, it's much better than Shinjuku or Agartha, even if I want Matthew Hopkins to die a slow painful death. And the halved-level battles haven't been too bad, so far. I honestly don't know how Harry coped with seeing Matthew Hopkins kill so many innocents. He probably sat that one out, especially as Mary probably couldn't come with him without arousing suspicion. I actually edited the previous chapter to reflect this.
Anyway, I'm now keeping the next chapter aside for the big December update later this month. Most of the ones being updated are Potterverse/Nasuverse fics, and there'll be two new fics, albeit ones familiar to those who follow my compilations the Cauldron and Zelretch's Collection of Alternates. My Harry/Arturia fic King of His Heart is finally seeing the light of day as You're the King of My Heart, and my Harry/Altera story, a remake (with permission) of sakurademonalchemist's abortive fic Shatterglass, will also be released. It's gone through a few titles, but it's now called Obtaining Salvation.
Review-answering time! Sunwolf27: For now, I'm not doing it, and it's firmly on the backburner. But never say never.
WearyCurmudgeon: I think Umbridge would draw the line at something like Crest Worms, at least using them to gain immortality. Torturing someone with them, yeah, I can see that. But as far as methods of immortality go…well, I reckon she would go so far as Darnic did in Fate/Apocrypha, effectively eating infant souls, but Crest Worms? Also, sakurademonalchemist does have a bad completion track record, true, but so does NeonZangetsu, though to be fair to him, he does try. He just has as bad a case of creative attention deficit as sakurademonalchemist…and to a degree, me, for that matter. I just try to ensure readers have something relatively substantial to read before I lose interest.
And I literally have no plan for how long this story goes for. My stories in general are mostly improvised using story rails to help with structure, but here, I'm basically throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks. I have rough ideas of what will happen, but a lot of these plot twists were made up on the fly. Hell, I didn't have any plan for Voldemort's Servant until the obvious answer hit me in the face. I didn't have plans to bring in Columbus into the story until I played through Agartha. So…no plans, just improvisation. Yikes…
No numbered annotations this time.