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Chapter Forty-Two—Best-Laid Plans

Tom stared in silence at the body that Severus had placed on the bed in a private room separate from the Healing Hall. He'd taken Filius Flitwick to the Healers, since the man might need some help waking up from the potion Severus had given him, but this…

Draco Malfoy was a special case.

And the wand that lay quiescent in his hand was even more so.

"Why did you decide to bring him with you?" Tom asked, not removing his eyes from the wand. He had already woven so many wards around the bed that the air practically thrummed and glittered, as if sparks were catching on diamond facets. He didn't know if it would be enough, should the wand wake up.

"I had no idea what else to do."

Tom turned around and looked at him.

Severus was sitting on the sole chair in the room, his hand shaking as he gripped a vial of Restorative Draught. A plate which had been covered with heavy slabs of meat and cheese sand bread sat in front of him, only bearing crumbs now. Flying the way that Severus had took a great deal of energy, as Tom had cause to know.

Severus met Tom's eyes and swallowed, looking down and away. "I had no idea what to do," he repeated in a low, hoarse voice. "I thought he might wake up without my being there. And someone might have found him and woken him up, which would be even worse. I certainly couldn't keep up my place as a spy in Hogwarts and watch him over twenty-four hours a day."

Tom considered that and then nodded. He had been thinking that there was something else Severus could have done, but now that he thought about it, Severus's reasoning was sound. "I am not angry with you."

Severus slumped for a moment. "I thought…"

"I know. But I only wanted to understand your thought process." Tom paced a slow circle around the motionless boy in the bed. "And I think that I will have to have someone wiser than myself in the ways of the Elder Wand investigate this."

"My lord?"

"Call me Tom. Or Riddle, if you must."

Severus nodded hesitantly, although from the look in his eyes, he seemed to believe Tom didn't mean it and would change his mind at any instant. "Who is it?"

"Harry Potter." Tom chuckled a little as he watched Severus's face darken. "I did hear from Sirius Black and Remus Lupin that you had some feud with Harry's father. Put that aside. His talents are valuable to me, and so are yours. You will work together as necessary."

"I can do that if Potter does not feel some hatred for me as a result of what his blasted father did."

Tom shook his head. "He never knew his parents, remember. And I do not think that Black and Lupin have filled his head with so many stories. There are other things that have occupied their attention more."

"All right."

Severus sounded ungracious, but the man had spent years surrounded by purebloods who disdained him and then years spying for Tom and thinking he might be found out. Tom could grant him this much.

And one thing more, now that Severus would not be returning to Hogwarts and the only chance that he would spend time around an enemy Legilimens would be if he was dead.

"This is the final push, Severus."

The man blinked and looked up at him. "What do you mean?"

"The war we have trained so long for." Tom felt his voice lifting with a savage joy, but he didn't think that would do him any harm in Severus's eyes. Rather the opposite, by the way Severus looked at him. "It took the death of Lucius Malfoy to unleash it, something I never anticipated, since I thought Malfoy would be our main adversary. But he is gone now, and even if the Elder Wand has been captured, other purebloods will fight on."

"So you think…"

"I do. The time has come to destroy them."

The hunger in Severus's eyes made Tom smile. He had made his choice well, when he had reached out to Severus and asked the man to follow him.

And not just because of the boy lying motionless on the bed in front of him, with the Elder Wand, although that was part of it. Tom was not foolish enough to think that all their problems were gone now that they held the wand prisoner. There would be others the wand could inspire or, more likely, coerce.

But it was the beginning of the end.

The Wand does not feel like the Wand.

Harry rolled his eyes and sat down on the edge of the chair that wasn't far from the bed where Malfoy lay with his mouth open in his sleep. The Wand was encased in a separate bubble around his hand. They hadn't wanted to move it in case that somehow woke the bloody thing up. "You've said that before. But it doesn't make sense."

The Wand does not feel like the Wand.

Harry sighed and pulled the Cloak off from where it was lying across his arms, draping it over the back of the chair instead. It muttered something about unfair treatment, but Harry ignored that. He was too busy studying the silver runes on the scroll that Angelina had been working on, and had passed to him.

The runes had to mean something. Even as Harry stared at them and willed them to make sense, he felt as though the extra bars and lines Angelina had added did mean something, and that meaning was boiling away in the back of his head, like a song he had heard once and forgotten.

But he didn't know what it was.

Harry forced down his rage and frustration. He had time to study the runes. Malfoy's disappearance had probably been noted, and his mother would probably do something, since Professor Riddle thought she was also a puppet of the Elder Wand. But no one else in Hogwarts would have a particular reason to search for the Wand itself, as opposed to Malfoy.

He glanced over at the boy's still body on the bed. He didn't look threatening, Harry thought. Not the son of the great threat that had been Lucius Malfoy. Then again, Harry didn't know for sure what he had expected Minister Malfoy's son to look like.

Harry shook his head resolutely and turned back to his study of the runes. It wasn't the time to be thinking such silly things that would never matter to anyone anyway.

"Come to us. We are your sisters. Come to us."

Andromeda chanted the words without wanting to, her mouth speaking them while her eyes focused on the dark rip in the air. Narcissa was kneeling beside her, wearing a set of black robes and speaking the words with such devotion that something in Andromeda shuddered away from her.

But only something in Andromeda. The rest of her was doing the chanting because Narcissa had commanded it of her.

At least with the Elder Wand not in the house, Andromeda could fight back a little. She had tested the extent of her enforced obedience, making her bows a little less deep and watching what happened. Narcissa never seemed to notice, and the Wand wasn't present to enforce anything.

But still she couldn't stop herself from doing exactly what Narcissa told her. And part of her, floating on top of the rebellious part like oil on water, rejoiced in it and was pleased to serve the Elder Wand in whatever it required.

Nauseated, sick, Andromeda continued the chant, and watched the air or the darkness inside the black rip in the air writhe and spin. There was a shape almost like a star condensing out of it now.

"We are your sisters. Come to us, come to us, come to us…"

Narcissa altered the chant into something high and singing, and Andromeda followed her without wanting to. The star-shape snapped together, the various points coalescing into one, and then the suddenly white form barreled straight at Andromeda.

She fell over with a shriek she couldn't help; Narcissa hadn't told her not to make it. The white light passed over her head and crashed into a corner of the wall. Narcissa spun on her knees to face it, and Andromeda did the same thing after she managed to scramble back up part of the way.

The light was snapping back and forth in odd patterns, and while it had formed a mostly human-shaped figure, Andromeda felt a dread curdling in her stomach. There was something wrong. Something wanted her to run away from the Manor and never look back over her shoulder.

But Narcissa had forbidden her to leave the Manor, so Andromeda could do nothing but watch as the light formed into a truly human shape.

It looked odd, but Andromeda discovered the reason when the light snapped into flesh. Bellatrix was crouched with one palm on the floor and the other hand lifted with her wand balanced on the fingertips. Her long, wild, tangled hair sprawled around her head, and her lip was curled in the most vicious snarl Andromeda had ever seen a witch wear.

"Why have you called me home now?" Bellatrix snapped. She was looking at Narcissa.

Andromeda would have liked to protest the automatic assumption that Narcissa was in charge, but she couldn't move her tongue or her hands. Her thoughts surged with gratitude, telling her it was only right Narcissa was in charge, and she fought a vicious battle with herself.

"I had a place in the dimension I was exiled to," Bellatrix continued, a grey growl in the back of her voice. "I fought for my life and I liked it. Why did you pull me home?"

"My husband is dead," Narcissa said, standing.

"Is he? Good."

Andromeda stopped fighting the battle with herself for a moment and stared at Bellatrix. That hadn't been at all what she'd thought her sister would say.

"He was killed fighting a Peverell who was challenging him!"

"So? Why is that my problem?"

"Muggles and Mudbloods will take over on this world unless we do something!" Narcissa stomped her foot in the way that Andromeda had once thought cute when she was a little girl. "You have to make sure that we can support the Lord my son is going to become through use of the Elder Wand."

"The Elder Wand, you say?"

"Yes. He has the Elder Wand, which belonged to a man Lucius summoned from beyond this world. Lucius became the Wand's servant, but now that he's dead, the Wand has chosen my son, and he will lead us to victory."

Bellatrix stood there for a moment, tapping her wand against her teeth. Then she said, "I require two things from you, Cissa, if I'm to help you win."

"Name them."

"First, you'll return me to the dimension I came from when you're done. I don't belong to this world anymore. I made a place for myself, and I'm going to retain that place."

"Done. And the second?"

Bellatrix smiled. "You'll give the Elder Wand to me. That seems like reward enough for helping you win your war and being forced to abandon my people in the middle of a demon attack."

Andromeda tried to scream at the thought of a witch as dangerous as Bellatrix fighting with the Wand, but she couldn't do anything except smile and kneel there as her sisters began a negotiation.

Tom snapped his eyes open. There was someone in his bedroom, and the number of people who could enter without stirring up his wards was so small—

He rolled to his feet, magic gathering around his hands, crackles of black and silver lightning. His most profound defensive spells had come out looking that way since Belasha's death, and he knew, although he hadn't tested it, that anyone who met that magic would simply disintegrate.


It was Carol's voice. Tom dropped his hands and waved his wand to call a ball of Lumos light. It hovered above his head as he stared at her. "What is worth waking me in the middle of the night, Carol?"

But his voice was indulgent, and she simply smiled at him, almost bouncing in place. "Someone has violated the wards around one of the villages where some Muggleborn students' parents live."

"And you want me to come with you to make sure things are working properly?"

Carol gave him a look of confused outrage. "I know they're working properly. I thought you would want to see some of the arrogant fools devoured by my viruses." She held up a potion that sparkled like liquid moonlight in a capped vial. "And to see the special new treasure I've invented that will take care of any who might manage to start casting Healing spells."

Tom smiled, and he knew that it was dark, and he knew from the way Carol returned it that she didn't care. He stood and gathered his magic close around him, plaiting the restraints that would keep it from exploding and alerting the purebloods who might be hoping to sneak undetected into the village. "Let us go, my dear."

Edgar Bones sighed as he led his contingent down the main street of the Muggle village, Elfric's Hollow or something like that. He had believed that they were being sent to Godric's Hollow at first, but the Unspeakables had corrected his mistake.

Edgar was partially relieved that he didn't have to attack a mixed magical-Muggle village, but he was also tired, and cold to the soul with the thought of killing innocent Muggles or Mudblood kids. He knew all the reasons for it. He knew that he would be killed if he tried to resist. He knew that his own past marriage to a Mudblood was barely tolerated and that his half-blood daughter, Susan, whom he'd barely managed to get admitted to Hogwarts, would be harmed if he didn't do as the Ministry wanted.

But Merlin, it was hard sometimes.

The air ahead of them abruptly sparkled. Edgar halted, peering ahead. They'd heard confused stories about the possible rebellion that had perhaps caused the death of Minister Malfoy. A Muggle village would be a strange point for it to begin, but Edgar had read about stranger, in history.

Silence. Edgar twisted his head back and forth, wiping absently at his forehead. It felt hot. He glanced at his second-in-command, Amethyst Fawley, and her face was covered with sweat. She was panting a little.

"Amy?" he asked quietly.

"I don't—I don't, Edgar, I don't feel so good," she gasped, and bent at the waist.

Then her flesh sloughed off her bones, and her skeleton collapsed in the middle of a putrefying puddle of liquid.

Edgar scrambled out of the way with a cry. The cry seemed to bounce back from invisible walls, as if muffled, and he realized that a ward had sprung up around them. It was keeping them concealed from anything outside it, Edgar thought, his brain seeming to swim through the same soup that had come boiling out of Amethyst. It was muffling sound.

It was trapping them in here with whatever had killed Amethyst.

Potion fumes? That was the only thing Edgar could think of, as his thoughts became heavier and heavier. He turned around with his wand out, seeing cloaked figures standing just beyond the ward, and he tried to aim at them.

The shorter figure laughed and tossed her hood back, revealing the face of a dark-skinned woman with braided hair. She smiled at him and tossed a chalky vial high in the air. It passed through the ward as if it didn't exist.

Potions, I was right, Edgar thought, and tried to brace himself against the heat rapidly devouring him from the inside. The potion was a less immediate threat than this, this disease or whatever it was. The vial wasn't even aimed at him. He began to shape a basic Healing spell with his lips, one that should at last hold his damned body together until he got back to the Ministry and the Department of Mysteries.

The vial landed and shattered.

Edgar screamed as tiny particles hit him, flying very fast. They felt like tiny pellets of ice, or chalk, or hardened dust. His hands scrambled at his robes, and he tore them off. He had to get them off, there was heat

And then his consciousness drowned in the fire.

"Hmm." Carol frowned at the burning corpses that sprawled on the street of the village, shaking her head. "I didn't expect that result. My newest little pet should have interacted with the viruses that were already in their bodies to make the disease more horrific, not make the fevers so potent that that happened."

"Always best to experiment," Tom said as lightly as he could, watching the bodies with a hard smile on his face. He wouldn't give in to either his disgust or his satisfaction. "Perhaps we can configure some of the wards to capture instead of kill, so that you can have some subjects to experiment on?"

Carol gave him the second sharp look of the night. "Honestly, Tom, I can have Alexander raise corpses if that's what I want. I have to make adjustments in theory and the temperament of my little darlings."

Tom nodded absently. Alexander, his necromancer, lived far away from Britain since he'd had the misfortune to be recognized in Diagon Alley after raising a few of the Unspeakables' victims to attack them. "All right. Work more on theory, then. Unless you think more of these attacks will happen before you can?"

"Oh, sure, some of them will," Carol said cheerfully. "But the next one, I think I'll watch the interaction of the diseases to establish a baseline instead of adding my new potion. That must be it. I accounted for the strength of individual viruses, and how they would interact when first combined, but not what would happen after they had a few minutes of mixing. Plus, the magical strength of the victims…"

Tom tuned out the rambling, and watched the bodies, some of their first casualties, with the satisfaction climbing up deep and rich from his stomach after all. The Deathly Hallows and other forces of fate might be trying to force the world back onto whatever path they thought best for it.

But Carol, a force of pure chaos, would help Tom in keeping that future as free and brightly-burning as possible.

Harry opened his eyes on a blurry grey dreamscape, and promptly wrapped his mind in the Occlumency that he had finally managed to learn from Professor Elthis. He would never have Hermione's strength in the mental arts, but he didn't need to. She was a much better battle Legilimens than he could ever be, and they would both play their parts in Fortius's defense.

But what worried him was that he had never had a dream like this before, so he doubted it was part of his war wizard magic.

Harry reached out with his senses, searching for something solid to put his back to or turn into a weapon, and frowned when he felt absolutely nothing. Whatever was controlling this dreamscape had no intention of letting him stand in more than fuzz and fog and mist, then. Harry flexed his hand down at his side and called up his magic, letting it dance in long trails of sparks over and between his fingers.

It is time.

Harry recognized the Cloak's voice at once. He had heard it so many times while he was awake. "Time for what?" he snapped, pleased to note that his voice at least seemed to echo in this strange place the way it would in a room with normal acoustics.

Time for you to surrender to me.

The air or fog in front of him blurred, and the Cloak appeared, hanging in midair. It seemed to be the most solid thing in the place. Harry could see what looked like long bars and lines of runes scrawled through it, and felt his stomach drop.

Those were the runes Angelina had been working on. The runes that were somehow associated with the world he had seen in his dreams before this, and the Resurrection Stone.

Harry had never once thought that they might be used against his side, instead of for them.

The Wand has possessed someone and rooted itself deeply into a human soul, the Cloak said as it floated towards him. That is the source of the corruption we sensed, the force of the possession and the soul and the other dimension that soul was born in. That means I must possess someone to fight it, as well.

"You don't need to," Harry said, holding still. His best bet was still to talk the Cloak out of this, rather than trying to fight an immortal artifact supposedly created by Death itself. "We could work together."

You care too much about the school and the students and other humans. This is our battle.

The Cloak darted towards him almost immediately after the cold, silent voice faded.

Harry pulled up the power around him and set it rotating in a shield around the edges of his body. It was one of the spells that Professor Riddle had made him promise never to practice on Fortius's grounds. Whatever touched the shield from the outside ceased to exist.

That meant the air and the world, too. Already, the grey fog looked thinner than it had, replaced by white spots that looked oddly like blank canvas.

The Cloak halted before it touched the shield. The white spots spread towards it, and it altered its position, dangling and swaying as if someone had put it on a hanger and was moving the hanger back and forth. You are being stubborn. You know that this is the way things must end.

"No, I don't," Harry snapped. "I might have to fight the Wand, but I don't have to do it your way."

There was a sensation like someone laughing through a mouth of decaying flesh. Silly boy. You will never win without my help, and I will never give my help until I can possess you.

Harry didn't know what prompted him to ask the question, when, after all, the silver runes gleamed on the Cloak and he thought he probably knew the answer already. "And the Stone?"

You need not worry about the Stone.

"You spoke about we until just now. Then you switched to I. Why is that?" The Cloak darted off to the side again, and Harry backed and turned to face it, his hands clenched. The shield around him went on eating at the air and space and substance of whatever world the Cloak had brought him to. "It must have some significance. What does it mean?"

It does not mean anything you should be concerned about. And now, I will end this foolish spell.

The Cloak loomed high and then came towards him like a swooping thestral, over the top of the nothingness shield. Harry took a deep breath and clasped his hands over his own arms, narrowing his mind to a small spot like a pinprick of sunlight, the way Disaster's book said he had to for this particular spell.

This is blood. This is not blood.

The spell flooded his body. It was meant to counter spells like the Blood-Boiling Curse that didn't have strong countercurses. Difficult to enchant someone's blood when they had only dust in their veins. But Harry had learned that he was even better at a variant of the spell that Disaster's book had only mentioned in passing.

Harry held the shape of his body, filled with ordinary blood, in his mind, and fell to dust for a flash of a moment as the Cloak swept past. Then he reformed, took down the nothingness spell, and collected it to hurl at the Cloak.

The Cloak came through it unharmed. Did you think that you could hurt an immortal force of the universe?

"I won't wear you," Harry said. The voice hadn't changed, in tone or inflection, but he had sensed a slight pause before it spoke. He doubted the Cloak, whatever it said, had thought Harry himself would resort to ceasing to exist so that it could pass by. "It doesn't matter what incentives you offer."

I am enslaved to your bloodline. If you do not wear me for this battle, I cannot be free.

"I won't let you possess me."

He thought the Cloak might offer to work with him in that case, and he was prepared with an answer for that, but the Cloak gave a slight shake that seemed irritated. You will not stand in the way of my plans, child. It must be this way, then.

The silver runes that decorated it flooded off it and into the air, or what was left of the air in the dreamscape the Cloak had created. Harry saw them turn and flash and crawl. They were forming odd, absurd, ugly shapes that seemed to sink into his mind like branding irons.

Harry squeezed his eyes shut, but it didn't change things. The runes were still there, still pressing into him, still twisting and warping him.

A war wizard is dangerous uncontrolled. You might indeed destroy the Wand, instead of returning it to its original spirit. But this way, you are bridled.

Harry drew his mind down to an intense point again, and collapsed into dust.

Only, this time, he remained dust for far more than a moment. He fixed on the sunlight inside him, the light of his thoughts and the burning throb of his magic. He was magic and he was thoughts, and that was far more important than the body he might inhabit right now, or the body he might have inhabited a short time before.

The Cloak swept over him. Harry accepted it into his thoughts as an enemy, and went on drifting in the manner of the dust.

He sensed distant words, which he thought was probably the Cloak trying to speak to him the way it had before, but there was nothing for it to speak to. Harry circled, and was himself, and was.

The Cloak swept over again and again. But it couldn't find him, and even if it was somehow freed from what it claimed was slavery to the Potter bloodline, it wouldn't be able to find him here if he willed it not to.

At last the sweeping stopped. Harry allowed one more facet to enter the thin point of light that was himself, and vanished the dreamscape the Cloak had created.

Harry opened his eyes and rolled out of bed in a single smooth movement. Then he fell to the floor as he realized that he was still in the chair next to Malfoy's bed and hadn't gone back to his room after all.

It didn't matter. The Cloak wasn't hovering nearby, which meant Harry didn't have to fight it right now, and he had a message to deliver. What the Cloak had said made him sure that the Stone would also choose to possess someone, if it could.

And he had his suspicions about the person the Cloak thought was "supposed" to have come into possession of the Stone, which meant he had to speak to Professor Riddle as soon as possible.