Content Warning for this chapter: Suicide
Barty used a set of tongs to gently pick up the phial of distilled eternity, then carefully poured it into the waiting beaker.
"Alright, it's in. Take cover!" He yelled before ducking behind an overturned table with Voldemort.
"This had better work." She griped. "If I'm faced with the prospect of having to go that place again, I may just give up while I'm ahead."
"It will be fine." Barty insisted. "I ran the numbers dozens of times. This will-"
An explosion, far more powerful than the previous ones, rocked the room. Bits of debris and shrapnel launched themselves over their cover, and then just… stopped. They slowed down and hung in the air, like gravity and momentum had forgotten about it halfway through the motion.
All of the material suddenly reversed direction in a — relatively — quiet implosion.
"-odd?" Barty finished.
Voldemort pushed herself up to look over the table and grinned. "I think we did it, Barty."
He looked over the edge of the table and looked at the result of their latest experiment. A luminescent field of energy floated above the workbench, and suspended in the middle of that field was a stone.
The Stone, if the procedure was done properly, which he was reasonably certain it was.
Voldemort hopped over the table and walked up to the floating glow. She reached her hand out, only to hiss and pull it back after it made contact. She then steeled herself and reached out again, grasping the stone and pulling it out. The glowing field dissipated as soon as the stone was removed from it, leaving no trace that anything was ever there besides the stone that now rested in Voldemort's hand.
"This is it." Voldemort said, confirming what Barty already knew on a fundamental level. "We really did it."
"We really did." Barty said, his gaze transfixed on the stone. The energies that flowed about it were inherently otherworldly, though that made sense given the nature of its principle ingredient.
"That is it!" Lucius shouted as he stormed into the room. "I have had enough of these damned explosions! All I am asking is that you… um… haven't… uh… do… is that a…?" Lucius trailed off as his gaze fixated on the Stone in Voldemort's hand.
"It is. I'll need a day or so to learn how to use it, then I should be back at the height of my power." Voldemort's grin got even wider. "Then it will be time to restart our plans in earnest. I will set this world aflame and watch it burn."
And Voldie wondered why Barty was attracted to her. How could he not be when she said things like that?
It felt so good to have his wand back. Harry didn't realise how naked he'd felt without it until it was returned to him after the trial. He was finally able to actually meaningfully contribute to the tidying of Grimmauld Place, which was also doing wonders for his mood. Currently, he and Ron were attempting to divide a large pile of objects into different groups.
Harry levitated a snuff box in front of Ron, who squinted at it.
"That one's cursed. Some form of hostile animation, I reckon."
Harry levitated it over the chest full of animated objects and dropped it in. He then waved his wand at the pile of junk and picked up a regular looking bottle.
Ron looked at it for a moment. "That one's clean. Must have been used to store potions at some point and got mixed in with the rest of the junk."
Harry floated the bottle over to the very small "safe" pile.
"How are you able to do that, anyway?" Hermione asked from where she and Ginny were sorting through their own pile. "I find it hard to believe that you can tell that much about the magic on an object just by looking at it."
Ron shrugged. "I think it's just something you have to be born with? I know Bill has a pretty good sense for what magicks are on a thing, so I never thought of it as being odd."
"Besides, it's not like Ron has magesight or anything." Ginny commented. "Now that would be rare."
"I just want to get through this pile so we can eat lunch. Grab the next object, Harry."
Harry cast a levitation spell at the pile and picked up a heavy-looking locket. Ron squinted at it for a long while.
"I have no idea what this is."
"Not so cool now, are we?" Hermione said smugly.
Ron just rolled his eyes. "Figure out what this is and I'll let you boast as much as you want."
Hermione walked over and started casting a wide variety of diagnostic spells, her smug look morphing into confusion as she did. "None of this makes sense. What is this thing?"
Ron gave an exaggerated shrug. "Like I said, I have no idea."
Against his better judgement, Harry reached out and grabbed it. The locket was slightly warm to the touch, but there were no signs of adverse effects. All that he felt as he touched it was a vague sense of familiarity, that it was important somehow.
"I think it's safe." Harry said as he looked more closely at it. The locket itself was made of gold, with an "S" of inlaid emeralds decorating it.
"Harry! It might be dangerous!" Hermione chided.
"Nah, I don't think so." Ron said. "I don't know what it is, but I'm pretty sure that it's not dangerous."
Hermione seemed unsure. "Still…"
"It's fine." Harry insisted as he pocketed the locket. "Now come on, the sooner we get done, the better."
Delphini could feel the aura of sheer power before the door opened. The hairs on her arms bristled and she had to suppress the urge to hiss in response. She would have been more alarmed if not for the fact that she recognised the bizarre emotional state of the mind behind the door.
It was just Lady fucking Voldemort being extra again.
Right on cue, she thrust the doors open and waltzed into the room. "I feel absolutely amazing right now."
"That's nice." Delphini said as she tried to go back to her book.
"I'm going to assume from the absurd amount of power you're giving off that the stone worked?" Barty asked from where he was working. "Seems that you need to burn off some energy there, Voldie."
"I would love to burn off some energy." Voldemort said, that manic grin never leaving her features. "In fact, grab Lucius and Fenrir and Karkaroff, too. I want to see how long all of you can last against me."
Delphini scoffed. She'd see this kind of stuff before. Someone gets a manic episode and then they feel so invincible that they can take on more than they can handle and get their asses kicked.
"Why don't you come and watch, Delphi?" Barty asked. "I'm sure it will be an enlightening experience."
Delphini sighed. "Fine, I can tell when I'm being dragged into something. I'll come and watch."
"Attagirl." Voldemort said as she summoned a serpentine patronus before turning to speak to it. "Tell Fenrir and Karkaroff to come to the duelling room. I'm feeling antsy and need to let off some steam."
Delphini shuddered at the alternative implications such phrasing could have. No matter how asexual Voldemort claimed to be, she veered towards innuendo far more than Delphini was comfortable with.
The amount Delphini was comfortable with was a negative number.
Still, she was marginally surprised that Voldemort could summon a patronus at all. Sociopathy aside, the woman's proclivity towards dark magic would usually render efforts at summoning a patronus moot. Then again, Voldemort didn't seem to be arsed about what was commonly considered to be impossible. Delphini still had no idea how that stupid teleport of hers worked.
Barty summoned his patronus, one that took the form of a mink, and gave a similar message to Lucius.
"I'll meet you two down there!" Voldemort exclaimed before silently vanishing.
Delphini rolled her eyes. "Great. Well, let's go, Barty. I have no idea why you dragged me into this in the first place."
Barty just gave her a look. "Because you've never seen Voldemort fight. I cannot begin to express how insanely powerful she is. Now that she's no longer burning up most of her magic sustaining self-transfigurations, she could easily wipe the floor with everyone here."
She just raised an eyebrow. "Look, I know you have a crush on her for some reason that eludes me, but I doubt she's on the same level as, say, Grindelwald."
Barty hummed pensively. "Actually, I think she's technically stronger than Grindelwald. He cheated to be as powerful as he is. He'll admit it if you ask him."
Delphini froze in her tracks. "…You've spoken with Grindelwald."
He nodded. "Just once, but yeah. Voldie's gone to Nurmengard to consult with him on multiple occasions. I accompanied her on the last one."
Delphini stared at him for a moment, then shook her head and pushed past him. "What the fuck is wrong with you people, I swear to the fae."
Barty shrugged. "Comes with the territory, Delph. You don't get powerful enough to single handedly tear down armies by doing sensible things. Besides, Grindelwald is extremely knowledgeable and intelligent — Not to mention that he's really mellowed out these past few decades — there's no harm in talking to him."
"No harm in- He's Grindelwald! The Scourge of Europe!" Delphini exclaimed.
Barty pushed open the door to the duelling room and began walking down the steps. "Yeah, but like I said, he's mellowed out. Maybe Voldie can introduce you sometime."
She could think of so many things she'd rather do. Delphini was beginning to develop some concerns for Barty's mental wellbeing. He wasn't joking — she would feel it if he was. He genuinely had no concerns with interacting with Grindelwald.
In the duelling room, Voldemort was already working on enabling the various wards around the arena. "Hey! I'm almost done."
Delphini sat on one of the chairs around the edge of the room as the others gradually filed in. Eventually, the wards around the circular duelling stage shimmered into place.
"Perfect!" Voldemort exclaimed. She then walked over to Delphini and handed over her wand. "Hold onto this for me, would you? I don't want to go too hard on them."
Go too hard on… she wasn't even using her fucking wand!?
Doubt niggled at the back of Delphini's mind. There was no way Voldemort was that powerful. There was no way she could take on four people without a wand. That would be…
Voldemort stood in the centre of the stage and let the others surround her before addressing them. "I won't Blink, but I will allow myself the use of free flight. No permanent damage. Begin!"
"Staged lattice!" Barty yelled. "Go!"
The Lattice technique was not a duelling move. It was a battlemage move that required several allies to surround an opponent and fire synchronised spells to limit the target's ability to dodge. A staged lattice involved everyone casting two consecutive spells with different projectile speeds so that they'd both reach the target at the same time. It was insanely hard to pull off, and nearly impossible to dodge. By all rights, the fight should have been over in seconds.
Instead, Voldemort pirouetted on her hand, flipping herself upside-down and twisting her body around with such impossible precision that every spell missed her. This continued several times, the gymnastic feats improving in complexity each time. The pattern only broke when Karkaroff sent a nasty looking black curse at her, which Voldemort blocked by using a tethering charm to whip a chair into its path.
"Well, now that we're properly warmed up, let's fight." Voldemort said with a grin.
Delphini had no way to describe what happened next beyond "all hell broke loose".
Voldemort continued her acrobatic dodging, but now she was returning fire. She had to be able to sense magic — that was the only explanation for how she could dodge spells she had no way of seeing. She could hit targets behind her without looking over her shoulder, like she knew exactly when they were most vulnerable.
Lucius sent out several dark, sticky-looking ropes, most likely an enhanced version of the incarcerous charm. Voldemort didn't even flinch and conjured a fire whip in her left hand, then began floating and whipping her body around in tight circles before releasing the whip, sending thin waves of fire flying in every direction. Lucius's conjured ropes were sliced to pieces, and his shield collapsed soon after. He hastily conjured a new one, but not before Voldemort launched a pale purple spell that phased right through the freshly conjured shield, knocking Lucius out cold.
The others' shields had held, but with a quarter of their firepower lost, it didn't take long for Voldemort to finish off Barty, Greyback, and then Karkaroff.
"Seriously, that's it?" Voldemort complained. "I was hoping that taking on four guys at once would satisfy me, but I'm already raring for a second round!"
That did it. Delphini was getting Voldemort a book on "How to not make innuendo". She didn't know if such a book existed, but she'd write it herself if she had to.
So, my mother is back at her full power now. She's, uh…
I don't have the words to describe what it was like watching her fight. She took on four people without her wand!
Her movements were insane, too. Have you ever seen muggle breakdancing? Combine that with ballet, and you get her dodging style. Spinning herself around so that she could dodge everything thrown at her, and whipping objects through the air to block the spells she couldn't dodge. It was… I've seen professional duellists in action, and they had nothing on her.
She didn't even have to use her teleportation spell for any of this either. She was holding back!
Much as it pains me to admit it, I'm starting to respect her, if only for her combat prowess.
I'm looking forward to the start of the school year. I won't be attending Hogwarts for obvious reasons, but I am looking forward to getting an uncensored letter from you. Your latest ones have been boring.
Tonks settled into her seat at the latest Order meeting, trying to get a read on the room. The mood was tense, though the level of tension seemed to vary wildly from person to person. She supposed she'd just have to wait for the meeting to start to find out what the big deal was.
Eventually, Dumbledore entered the room and sat down. His expression was solemn, and he looked older than usual. He was quiet for an uncomfortable amount of time before he spoke up.
"I fear that we have been thoroughly outmaneuvered." He said. "The ministry has moved forward with revoking the Dursleys' custody of Harry, and with it, the blood protections are no longer valid."
"Is that really a bad thing?" Molly asked. "I mean, they never seemed to treat him very well."
Dumbledore sighed. "If it were as simple as their treatment of Harry, I would have removed him from there long ago. Alas, the intricacies of whatever sacrificial magic Lily invoked when she protected Harry has continued to elude even me. Had I been able to reverse engineer it, especially the part that prevents Voldemort's Blinking, I would have simply rebuilt them elsewhere. In theory, Harry would have been safe under a fidelius, but that would only have kept him safe when he was within it, and I would be uncomfortable effectively keeping Harry prisoner for his own safety. The protection granted by the blood wards continued to persist for months after Harry left them."
"Not to mention that the wrong choice of Secret Keeper has already backfired once." Sirius said darkly. "Are the wards really that powerful? Like, are they really worth keeping Harry there?"
"Unless you know of other intent-based wards with a five kilometre functional radius and lingering effects, then I would say yes. Alas, with the custody formally revoked, that protection is lost to us forever. For now, we need to stay focused on our next goal — keeping Harry out of Voldemort's clutches. With Harry's custody up in the air, I have no doubt that Voldemort will try to get Harry under her control. Fudge is very firmly in Lucius's pocket, so he's very likely to try and make a claim himself. Moreover, with Fudge dead set against me, anyone known to be allied with myself is likely to be rejected outright."
"That certainly rules us out." Arthur mused. "Who does that leave?"
"Andromeda." Sirius said. "She's related to the Potters, albeit a bit distantly, and we know she can fend off Death Eaters."
Tonks shrugged. "Better her than me. I'll get in touch with her again."
Dumbledore nodded. "Still, we mustn't get complacent. I'm sure that Lucius will fight tooth and nail to gain control of Harry, and no matter what, we cannot let that happen."
"Lucius, I need you to file this at the Ministry for me." Voldemort said as she handed him the form.
Lucius took it without complaint and looked it over. "You cannot be serious." He deadpanned.
"Why not?" Voldemort asked. "I mean, I'm certain I could do a decent job at it, and we're technically blood relatives now."
Lucius stared at her incredulously. "You want to adopt Harry Potter."
She shrugged. "Like I said, why not? I'm sure I'd be a decent guardian."
"You killed his parents."
"We've been working past that."
"Your own daughter can barely stand you."
"I'm sure I'll win Delphini over in time. She's just upset because her entire life was uprooted." Voldemort insisted.
Lucius looked back at the form. "'Emily Evans'?"
"An assumed identity that Barty and I had prepared just in case. A muggleborn witch who was Lily's aunt. She attended one of the lesser schools of magic in the Isles."
Lucius began massaging his temples. "I cannot believe this. I assumed that you wanted me to take him in."
"That's the glory of it." Voldemort said as she sat down on Lucius's desk. "I want Dumbledore to think that I want you to gain custody of him. As such, 'Emily Evans' will slip completely under his radar."
"Have you even asked the boy if he's alright with this?"
Voldemort frowned. "No, not yet, and I'll certainly withdraw my claim should he ask, but I want to have things prepared just in case."
"Just in case." Lucius hissed. "You are insane, you know that?"
She shrugged. "I've been called worse. Now, go be a dear and make sure that gets filed. Barty and I are finalising our plans for the fall of Azkaban."
He sighed. "Fine, but don't hold me accountable if this backfires."
"Lucius." Voldemort said with a smile. "When have my plans ever backfired?"
Lucius glared at her. "October 31st, 1981."
"That was one time." Voldemort insisted before blinking out of the room. She reappeared in the corner of the library where Delphini liked to study.
Delphini sighed. "What do you want?"
"Barty and I are going to discuss plans over lunch. Do you want to come with us?"
Delphini groaned but put the book aside and stood up. "You're lucky I like food."
Harry was surprised to see another note from Voldemort tucked inside the envelope with Delphini's letter. This was one short and to the point.
Meet me outside at midnight.
You know who
Some part of him was immediately wary. He'd spent a lot of time with Voldemort before, but that was always her initiative. She was the one who kept showing up and bothering him. This time, he was being asked to initiate contact.
It was harder to trust her this time. Being surrounded by the Order, it was easier to remember that Voldemort had done terrible things and likely would again. Moreover, he was unprotected now. Before, he'd been in range of the wards on the Dursleys, but now he had that protection revoked for good. Was this her plot all along? Get him to trust her so she could strike at him when he was vulnerable?
The existence of Delphini seemed to point against that, though. He doubted that Voldemort would go through the trouble of creating a fictional daughter just to sell the illusion, let alone have that daughter forge a friendship with him.
Fine then, he supposed he was doing this, apprehensions be damned. He hoped he didn't regret it.
The tension was visible on his face. Luckily, everyone around him just assumed that it was because his future was thrown into uncertainty, not because he was meeting Voldemort outside of neutral ground for the first time.
Voldemort was sane. Voldemort was smart. She could absolutely take advantage of this situation if she wanted to. Harry had to trust her this time. Was that the point? Did she want to show that she could be trusted?
He wasn't closer to any answers when midnight rolled around. With no other choice of action made clear, he donned the invisibility cloak and snuck out of his bed, down the stairs, and out the front door.
Harry had never been in a city at night, and the experience was wholly different than the daytime one he was familiar with. The usual cacophony of urban traffic had faded to a quiet background noise. The overcast sky glowed dimly with reflected light from the city below.
"It's gorgeous, isn't it?" Voldemort said from behind him.
Harry tensed. How did she…?
"I know you're there, Harry." She continued. "You can make yourself visible again. I've guaranteed that it's safe."
Harry pulled down the hood of the invisibility cloak. "How did you know?"
"I used your blood in my resurrection, and I can use it to track you. I couldn't find you when you were under fidelius, but the moment you stepped outside, I knew exactly where you were."
Harry found himself understanding why Dumbledore had been so insistent on the blood wards. It didn't make keeping him there right, but if Voldemort was truly capable of tracking him literally anywhere the moment he was outside of a fidelius, then it made sense for him to be under some very powerful protections.
"That about sums it up." Voldemort said casually. "Those wards were a very nasty piece of work, and I say that as someone who was on the receiving end of them back in '92. Like I said before, Dumbledore really does mean well, but he sometimes loses track of some of the details and consequences of his actions."
"You're reading my mind again." Harry said.
Voldemort paused. "Yes, I am. Sorry. Now that I'm back at my full power, I need to get used to reigning in my abilities and senses all over again."
"I'm surprised to hear you speak well of Dumbledore." Harry said frankly. "I got the impression that you two hated each other."
"He doesn't know it, but Dumbledore was my favourite teacher when I was in school." Voldemort said wistfully. "I hope someday I'll be able to help him realise that."
She glanced around the area.
"I actually remember this street. I've been here before, though I can't remember why. I'm assuming it has something to do with the fidelius?"
Harry shrugged. "Maybe? I don't really know much about the place. You're not going to… do anything, are you?"
Voldemort laughed. "No, definitely not. I need a competent resistance for my plans, and the Ministry is unlikely to provide it. I could eliminate the entire Order right now if I wanted to, but that would be utterly pointless. More importantly, I doubt that you'd ever forgive me for it, and I really don't want you to be my enemy. Not to mention that Delphini likes you, and she'd never forgive me if I turned you against me."
That was… nice, actually. "So, why are you here?" Harry asked.
"I'm here to check up on you." Voldemort explained. "Make sure you're doing well after your trial. Delphini's been worried sick, not that she'll admit it."
"I think I'm doing as well as can be expected." Harry said as he pulled the invisibility cloak off of himself completely. The temperature out here was nice once the sun was down.
Voldemort nodded. "That's good, that's… good. …Harry, where did you get that?"
"The cloak?" Harry asked. "It was an heirloom. Dumbledore gave it to me on my first Christmas at Hogwarts."
"An heirl-? No, that's weird, but that's not what I'm talking about! That locket! Where did you get it?"
He looked down at the locket that he'd found earlier. He wasn't really sure why he started wearing it — it just felt natural. "I found it inside the house."
"Inside the-" Voldemort cut herself off. He could see her eyes flicking around as she thought, sometimes glancing around the area before she finally hissed out. "Regulus…"
"That's not important." She insisted. "That locket belongs to me, and it was evidently stolen from where I was safekeeping it. Please give it back."
"Why is this so important to you?" Harry asked as he took a step back. "We tried examining this amulet and we don't even know what it is." If it was so important to Voldemort, then maybe it wasn't safe after all. He hastily pulled it off of his neck and held it away from himself.
"It belonged to my mother." Voldemort said, a slight tone of desperation entering her voice. "Please."
Oh. Harry was about to give it back to her anyways, but Voldemort sweetened the deal further.
"Return it to me and I will give you one favour of your choosing. Anything that is within my power and will to give, and you'll have it."
Well, there was no way Harry could decline that sort of leverage. What would he even ask for, anyway? There was no way she'd stop her war if he asked her to, and it wasn't like she could return his family to him. Although she could…
"I want Sirius." Harry said firmly.
"Sirius?" Voldemort asked. "We haven't captured him."
"I want him freed." Harry clarified. "I want Pettigrew to face justice for what he did, and I want Sirius to be declared innocent of the crimes he was accused of. You got me off with almost no consequences, so I'm sure you can manage that."
Voldemort appeared extremely hesitant at that demand. For a moment, he was afraid she would decline, but then she nodded. "Very well then. It shall be done. You really know how to throw a wrench into my plans, you know that, Harry? May I have the locket back now?"
"I want some form of insurance." Harry insisted. "I'd like to believe that you're true to your word, but I want a guarantee."
She sighed. "An unbreakable vow, then. I'll go fetch someone to act as the binder."
Voldemort disappeared from the street with a loud crack. She was gone for a good few minutes before reappearing with a young-looking man with messy, dirty-blond hair. Some part of Harry's mind felt like he should recognise the man, but…
"Touch the tip of your wand to the tip of mine." Voldemort said, snapping Harry out of his reverie.
"That's what she said." The man giggled.
Voldemort shot him a glare, but he seemed unfazed. Harry did what Voldemort asked, noticing a strange resonance between the magic of their wands as he did. The man held his wand above theirs and began defining the terms.
"Voldemort, will you do everything in your power to ensure that Peter Pettigrew faces justice before the Wizengamot and is appropriately sentenced for his crimes?"
"I will." Voldemort said, causing a golden cord to wrap around their arms.
"Will you do everything in your power to ensure that Sirius Black is freed in his stead, being acquitted of the crimes which he was falsely accused of?"
"I will." Voldemort repeated, causing another golden cord to coil around them.
"And Harry Potter, will you agree to hand over Slytherin's Locket, and mention its existence to no one unless otherwise told by Voldemort?"
"I will." Harry said, creating a third coil. He didn't see why not mentioning the locket was important, but he wasn't about to back down now.
"So mote it be." The man said, and the coils sank into their arms.
Harry handed over the locket, and Voldemort stared at it reverently for a moment before turning to him. "It will probably be a few days before you'll hear anything about Pettigrew. I'll need to make arrangements. Now, if you'll excuse me, we have other business to attend to."
Voldemort hugged him again.
"Take care of yourself, Harry. And remember, work on removing your Trace! You're so much more capable than you think."
She pulled back and disappeared, taking the man with her, leaving a bewildered Harry alone in the cul-de-sac.
"I'm surprised to see that you're so soft on the kid." Barty said. "If that were anyone else, you'd have just taken the horcrux."
"He reminds me of myself." Voldemort said as she flew them along the seaside cliffs. "Besides, it's the least I can do for him after what I've done."
Barty hummed noncommittally as they landed near the entrance to the cave. "Still, I didn't think you had it in you."
"Me neither." She said as they began walking. "Watch your step, here. It's deceptively slippery."
Barty focused on his footholds before restarting the conversation. "So, Harry and Delphini, huh? Think there's any chemistry there?"
"I should think so, given that they've been exchanging letters for a few weeks." Voldemort said as she hopped over a puddle.
"No, I meant, like, romantic chemistry."
Voldemort stopped moving and turned around to face him. "What?"
Barty paused. No, not even she could possibly be that thick. "I mean, surely you've noticed, right? She blushes a bit when she talks about him sometimes."
Voldemort crossed her arms. "People blush for lots of reasons, Barty. That doesn't necessarily mean anything."
He rolled his eyes. "And I'm no natural legilimens, but during that minute it took us to make that unbreakable vow, I could tell that Harry was thinking about her. A lot. He likes her."
"Of course he likes her. She's one of the only people he can speak freely with."
Barty groaned. "Do you seriously not see any potential there? Like, I'm not saying that it will go anywhere, but do you not even see the potential?"
"No, I don't." Voldemort's eyes narrowed. "Are you sure you're not imagining things, Barty? I won't claim to be knowledgeable in romance or any of its adjacent emotions, but this seems pretty far-fetched to me."
"Believe me, I'm quite sure."
"Oh." Voldemort's brow furrowed. "Well, that could get awkward. I mean, if things worked out between them, it would be wonderful, but if they broke up, it would be so awkward." She groaned. "They'd probably do well together, but I really don't want to force the issue, either. I know Delphini would absolutely hate it. But I don't want to discourage it either, for the same reason…" She sighed. "Great, now I'm going to be overthinking every interaction I have with them. Thanks, Barty."
"I'm sorry?" It wasn't his fault that he'd overestimated her emotional awareness.
"Whatever, let's just go see what went wrong."
Voldemort continued walking and Barty trailed along behind her until they reached the end of the narrow cave. Voldemort then pulled out a knife, stabbed the tip of her index finger, and smeared the blood across the stone, causing it to crumble away and part.
Barty gasped in awe as he got a good look at the cavern for the first time. Voldemort had mentioned it to him, explained its defences and such, but he'd never actually seen it in person. It was beautiful but with an underlying sense of wrongness that bordered on horrifying. The stone dome of the ceiling was too smooth, the lake's surface too still, the air too quiet. The green light coming from the island at the cave's centre was extremely dim, yet it managed to somehow light the entire cavern.
"Normally, I'd just fly, but since you're with me, we'll be taking a different route." Voldemort explained. Her magic flared and she sliced her hand downwards through the air, the liquid of the lake parting as she did. "Come along."
The bottom of the lake was as eerily smooth as the surface. Corpses from the army of inferi that guarded the cave could be seen idly floating in the lake on either side of the passage, each body bloated and pale. They were more than halfway to the island when Voldemort stopped and looked to the left.
"There he is." She lashed out with a Carpe Retractum and yanked the body of Regulus Black out of the liquid. His body was covered in red bite and claw marks, and two deep gashes cut deep into each of his wrists.
"Looks like the bastard tried to commit suicide." Barty observed.
Voldemort nodded. "Dark laceration curses. Practically unhealable. Seems the inferi dragged him into the lake before he could finish bleeding out. Let's see what he has to say in his final moments."
She tipped back his head and poured the antidote to the Draught of Living Death down his throat, quickly followed by a blood replenisher.
"Wake up, Regulus. We have a lot of things to discuss, and only a few more minutes to do it."
His eyes cracked open. "Wha…?"
"There you go. Now, answer me this, Regulus. Did you really think that this would work?"
He squinted and stared at Voldemort. "You… no, impossible. Stopped you…"
"You stopped nothing." Voldemort hissed. "Your elf — it was your elf, wasn't it — couldn't even scratch my previous horcrux, and now it's been returned to my grasp. Was it worth throwing your life away for, you filthy little traitor?"
That lit a fire in Regulus's eyes. "You're the traitor. You don't care about stopping mudbloods and blood traitors at all. You just wanted to use us… Bellatrix told me everything…"
"Bellatrix wanted you to join the inner circle. She wanted all of you to join the inner circle. She cared deeply for your safety, and you just spat in her face and tried to destroy everything she fought for."
"Society needs revolution, Regulus. It's how we prevent stagnation."
Regulus moaned, his breathing getting shallower.
"Did you even think to tell anyone else about this? Or did you finally let your Gryffindor streak shine through and rush in here with no one but yourself and your house elf for backup?"
"I couldn't go… Dumbledore… Filthy blood traitors…"
"Your prejudice blinds you, Regulus." Voldemort said sadly. "I had to learn that mistake myself, but you never even tried, did you?"
He wheezed. "I won't… let…"
Voldemort sighed. "You can do nothing, Regulus. You're alone and bleeding out through unhealable cuts. You tried to turn against me but couldn't even manage to do that properly. You betrayed the trust of one of the only people who truly cared about you. You threw your life away for nothing. It's time for you to die properly."
"I've been called worse." Voldemort said.
Regulus continued to pale and his breathing became shallower and shallower until it finally stopped. Voldemort leaned down and cast a diagnostic spell.
"He's dead." She confirmed before chucking his corpse back into the lake.
"Christ, Voldie." Barty said under his breath. "You really went all in on him, didn't you?"
Voldemort sighed. "We should just count ourselves lucky that he didn't try to blow the lid on our whole operation — the last thing we need is the ICW breathing down our necks. Come on, let's go see what he left in its place."
The two ascended the bank until they reached the shore of the island. Resting in the middle was a marble basin, an eerie green glow emanating from within.
Barty knew about what lay within, but it was still unnerving to even be near it. He never asked Voldemort how she got ahold of the Elixir of Horrors, and he wasn't sure he wanted to know. It was brewed using the viscera of creatures from the Void, and had extremely bizarre metaphysical properties about its displacement. It had taken them weeks to determine the proper arithmancy to make a loophole around that oddity.
Voldemort kneeled down and pressed an invisible indentation near the bottom of the basin, causing the contained elixir to drain through a series of intricately carved runic tubes that negated some of its properties. Enough for Voldemort to snatch the fake locket out of the basin and pop it open. She sighed as she read the small note written within before burning it.
"Was that really the best he could do?" She asked, clearly speaking more to herself than to Barty. She pulled out a piece of parchment, wrote a new note on it, then returned the fake locket and rearmed the trap. "Well, hopefully this will catch any potential interlopers. Come on, let's get out of here."
Barty couldn't agree more. This place gave him the creeps.
By comparison, the protections at the Gaunt Shack were child's play. Voldemort shredded the entire ward scheme with a wave of her wand.
"Bit excessive, don't you think?" Barty asked as she pushed down the rotting door.
"It's literally easier to rebuild the wards from scratch than to work around the protections I built here." Voldemort said as she tore up a floorboard. She waved her hand at the gap and levitated out a small jewellery box. "Now, let's see if we can't rig this one, too."
A flick of her wand opened the box's lid, revealing a golden ring with a black stone set into it. Voldemort pulled a duplicate ring out of her pocket and pointed her wand at the original. Her face contorted in concentration and slowly, wisps of deep darkness that reeked of decay began to seep out of the original and into the duplicate. After a few minutes, the rate began to decrease, and finally stopped with a slight fizzling noise.
Voldemort wiped some sweat off of her brow. "There we go. Now we just finish setting the scene." The now cursed duplicate was moved to the jewellery box, and the horcrux ring was pocketed. A wave of her wand sent everything back where it belonged. "Now we just need to recreate the wards, although I might make them a bit weaker this time. Perhaps whoever stumbles upon the ring will be a tad overconfident should the wards fall too easily."
Barty raised an eyebrow. "Feeling nefarious, Voldie?"
She smirked back at him. "When am I not? Now, give me a hand."
As they slowly weaved the ward scheme back into existence, Barty asked the obvious question. "So, what about your other horcruxes? Do we need to check on them too?"
"No." She said without breaking her flow. "The diary is destroyed. The diadem is kept safe at Hogwarts in a room few know exists, and only if one specifically asks for it. The cup is as safe as can be in Bellatrix's vault, and the goblins aren't likely to acquiesce to any demands for its removal even if someone does discover its location. Harry and Nagini are as safe as I can make them. These two are the only ones that were in real danger. We'll need to design new protections for these in new locations, but I'm sure we can manage."
Barty sensed a lot of work in his future.
The floo in Grimmauld place flared green, and Dumbledore was barely out of the flames before he addressed the room. "Peter Pettigrew has been arrested."
The entire room erupted into chaos at that declaration. Harry's eyes just widened. He knew that Voldemort said she would, but even with the Unbreakable Vow, he found himself doubting that she'd actually do it.
"How'd that come about?" Sirius asked. "And how much has he spilled?"
"I wasn't able to get much information before I was chased out, but what little I heard was that he and Barty Crouch were working together in an attempt to kidnap Harry Potter to enact revenge on him. He turned himself in and has no memory of Voldemort returning. I can only assume that he displeased Voldemort in some way and this was her punishment for him." Dumbledore explained.
Harry was trying very, very hard to control his emotions. He could not let his role in this come out. How would he even explain it?
Sirius lifted Harry into a hug while giggling maniacally. "I can't believe that filthy rat is finally going to face justice! Oh, I have been dying to see this day for years!"
Dumbledore cleared his throat. "While I hate to interrupt this little celebration, we must act quickly. We can use this as an excuse to get Sirius's case reopened. This also gives us a prime opportunity to keep Harry out of Voldemort's clutches. As Harry's godfather, Sirius should be first in line to claim custody. We need to get to work right away."
Sirius put Harry down and nodded. "Right, okay. Um, how are we supposed to get around the 'Kiss on Sight' order? I can't very well turn myself in at the Ministry. They'd put me down right away."
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. "We're going to take advantage of Magical Britain's policies on extradition with foreign entities. By having you take asylum, we can have you extradited straight to the trial, bypassing Ministry Law Enforcement."
"Right, so I'll be going… where, France?"
"France is an option." Dumbledore said. "Alternatively, you could seek asylum with the Goblins at Gringotts, or at Hogwarts with me. Hogwarts lacks the sovereignty it once had, but we still have extradition laws in place, even if they haven't seen use in centuries."
Sirius shook his head. "No way I'm trusting my wellbeing to the Goblins — I'll take my chances at Hogwarts. Er… there aren't going to be any long-term consequences to us doing this, are there?"
Dumbledore's eyes began twinkling as a grin stretched across his face. "Sirius, sometimes things are worth doing because of the consequences. I daresay that the least Cornelius deserves is to be reminded of his own impotence once in a while."
That got a few laughs from around the room.
"Come along, Sirius. The sooner we can get started, the better. Cornelius is sending one of his own people to fill the defence post this year, so the more we can get done before their arrival, the better." Dumbledore turned back to the floo and shouted "Hogwarts Headmaster's Office!"
"I'm kind of surprised." Hermione said frankly after the two left. "I never thought he'd actually have a chance to get free, not after how Fudge reacted to our declarations of his innocence last year."
"With any luck, this will throw Fudge for a loop." Harry said, trying to focus on his gaze on the book he was reading. He didn't trust himself to keep his expression neutral at the moment.
"You're ignoring the most important part!" Fred insisted as he slid into the sofa between Ron and Harry. "Dumbledore said that one of Fudge's people is taking the Defence position, so we have no excuse not to make their life as miserable as possible!"
"Indeed, indeed." George said as he leaned over from behind the sofa. "Imagine the mayhem. Imagine the chaos."
"Stop being weird or I'll tell mum." Ron said.
"He knows our weakness, brother! Retreat!"
Ron rolled his eyes as the two clambered out of the room. "Weirdos."
Harry's attention slowly drifted from the book on freeform magic. It was interesting to read about this skill that he was supposedly talented at, but his heart was no longer in it. What did his future hold, at this point? He'd spent so much of his life focused on either surviving Voldemort or getting away from the Dursleys, and now both of those issues had been resolved in a single summer. With them consuming most of his attention, he'd never actually considered what he wanted before.
What did he want?
Well, he was sure he'd have time to figure that out.
A/N (Tendra): Not going to lie, I genuinely didn't expect the plot to go off of the rails so quickly. But once I started diverging a bit, things spiraled out of control.
Next chapter will be back at Hogwarts. I don't plan to spend too many chapters on it before winter break, as not a lot of what happens at Hogwarts is important to the story.
E/N (Xgenje): First off, I misread "Attagirl" as "Catgirl". Now all I can think of is Catgirl!Delphini… Someone should probably do something about that.