AN: new chapter up, enjoy.
Chapter 54 - Dead Men Walking
While the six grunts of the Asar family were venting their frustrations, they didn't notice the red vapour beginning to rise from the pool of blood and filling the air. It was only when everything in their eyes was starting to get a reddish colour that they finally realized something terribly wrong was going on. It was too late though. One by one, the six masked individuals collapsed on the ground with a heavy thud. They were dead.
At that moment, it was as if the pool of blood came to life. Five thick tendrils of blood rose up in the air and wrapped around five of the six lifeless bodies before dragging them into the pool. A sizzling sound was heard and bubbles appeared on the surface of the pool of blood as the five corpses were liquefied. Soon, the sizzling sound stopped and the surface of the pool of blood became still. But then, a humanoid silhouette unexpectedly rose from the pool. As it stepped onto the shore, the viscous blood obscuring its appearance trickled down like a miracle, revealing a tall and well-built man, naked as the day he was born.
"Accio," the man said and the wand belonging to the dead wizard that still lay on the shore flew into his outstretched hand. Trying it out, the man let out a sniff of dissatisfaction. It was not a good match for him but it was still better than being wandless.
With a swish of his new wand, a large full-length mirror appeared out of nowhere and started floating in front of him. As he looked at his reflection in the mirror, the man started touching his body all over with his hands.
'The skin feels no different to touch than that of any human, it doesn't have an unpleasant smell and the colour is natural as well.'
Examining his upper body, he smiled in contentment at the sight of his healthy-looking long black hair and his handsome facial features - bright blue eyes, a straight and narrow nose, a sharp jawline, perfect white teeth and a beautiful smile. He looked like a tall, well-built, and very handsome man in his late twenties or early thirties.
'I look even better than before,' he thought and chuckled.
With another wave of his wand, the man conjured a set of plain black wizarding robes and made himself more presentable.
'Not the best-looking robes but they'll have to do until I get out of here.'
But now that he was done checking out his new body, the man's countenance became cloudy.
'I can't believe I was forced to use the Curse of the Damned.'
He had never thought there was anybody in the whole world powerful enough to push him to such a desperate act.
'Just who was that man and that woman?'
In the first place, he had never even seen such magic before - breaking warding spells as strong as the ones that had protected the Minister of Magic's house with just one spell, summoning a devastating tornado, cleaving his Fiendyre with the strongest Cutting Curse that he had ever seen or the Soul-Binding Curse that had shackled him his soul when he had tried to get away. If he had not sacrificed that piece of his soul to cast the Curse of the Damned, he reckoned that the Soul-Binding Curse would have captured him for good.
Voldemort wiped his sweaty palms on his black tunic. Just thinking about that outrageous display of magic gave him chills.
"Regardless of his strength, in the end, I was the victor."
Although he had lost a piece of his soul in the process, he had killed his foe. Even so, he could not bring himself to be happy. Ever since he had come back to life, nothing worked well for him. Stealing the Philosopher's Stone from under Dumbledore's nose had taken some time and planning but it had not been particularly difficult. However, after that, he met one obstacle after another.
'My assets at the Ministry, Malfoy and Nott, were murdered. All my loyal Death Eaters from Azkaban were murdered as well. My spy in Dumbledore's camp, Severus, was killed too. And then, Bellatrix Black's Magic Ancestry ruined everything I had worked for until a decade ago because purebloods don't have an exalted statute anymore. Mudbloods and half-bloods have already started getting positions of power in the Ministry.'
Last, but not least, although he had managed to seduce the Ministry of Magic and have her wrapped around his little finger, somehow, he was still discovered and driven to cast a suicidal spell in order to survive.
Voldemort closed his eyes and let out a long breath.
'Where do I go from here?'
For the first time in many, many years, he was at a loss. Sure, he had achieved his dream and created a perfect form of immortality. He had conquered death. But there was more to living than that. A man needed a purpose in life. If people didn't have goals and lived aimlessly, just surviving, what difference would be there between them and bugs?
'All I wanted was for us to rule. We shouldn't be hiding like rats. We shouldn't be afraid of rabble and live in secrecy. We are the chosen ones. We have magic. We shouldn't submit to filth like the Muggles.'
A red glint flickered in his eyes as his rage abruptly soared.
'Why can't others see it too?! Why are they so adamant about opposing me? '
He was so angry that he was heaving.
'They'd more easily believe in a senile old man? Or in that Muggle-loving bitch and her irrelevant research?'
But then, his mood did a 180 turn and his face became inexplicably calm in an instant.
Thinking about Bellatrix Black's research again, for the first time, it downed on him:
'Doesn't Magic Ancestry prove what I've always believed to be true? Magic cannot come from Muggles.'
According to Bellatrix Black's Magic Ancestry, magic was hereditary. Even Muggleborns were, in fact, descendants of a wizard, witch, or even a squib.
In the first place, Voldemort had never truly believed in pureblood supremacy because he was the living proof that denied that dogma. Despite being only a half-blood, he was the most powerful wizard in the world. It was his motto that there was only power and those too weak to seek it.
'I can use this.'
He was a proud man but he was not blind to his wrongdoings either.
'Maybe it was a mistake trying to appeal only to the purebloods, especially nowadays when the mudbloods' number is on the rise. I should've appealed to a larger segment of the society.'
But then, he also said to himself:
'Gellert Grindelwald did that and still failed in the end though.'
Would he be able to succeed where Grindelwald failed? Even in spite of his recent brush with death, Voldemort still was supremely confident in his power. He had no doubt that he was stronger than Grindelwald or that he could charm people just as well.
'However, society is different nowadays. Purebloods are too cautious and timid these days. Also, too many mudbloods have joined our world in the last century. Would they be willing to fight against their own families and kill their relatives?'
It was a rhetorical question, he knew the answer to it. While he had never experienced that kind of bond, he knew that humans valued their blood relatives sometimes even more than their own lives, as irrational as that sounded in his ears. He had experienced humans' obsession with protecting their family first-hand: Augusta Longbottom sacrificing her life for the sake of her grandson had almost led to his destruction.
'No, I need a different plan.'
Taking a look at the corpse that had not been dragged into the pool of blood like the others, Voldemort smirked as a brand new idea came to his mind.
'But, before that, I need a new place to hide.'
Although he had finished creating a new body for himself a few weeks ago, due to people figuring out that he had been involved in the destruction of the Great Pyramid of Giza, they had found his secret chamber and he had been forced to lay low and wait until the teams of researchers and Curse Breakers from the British and Egyptian Ministries of Magic left. While he was not completely helpless without a wand, it was not feasible to take on dozens of experienced wizards and witches simultaneously while he was unarmed. Fortunately, in the end, the Asar family's greed and corruption had worked tremendously in his favour.
As he pointed his wand at the altar of bones located in the middle of the pool of blood, the entire underground chamber trembled for several seconds. A loud creaking sound came from the altar before it suddenly crumbled into a pile of bones and sank to the bottom of the pool of blood. A few moments later, a rectangular shape rose from the depths of the small lake of blood.
Levitating it towards him and placing it carefully on the ground, Voldemort caressed the rectangular object almost lovingly with his hand. It was an 8 feet long and 3 feet wide golden coffin covered with Ancient Runes and all sorts of incomprehensible magical symbols all over except for the lid. The lid of the coffin was sculpted and painted into the image of a Pharaoh who was holding a curled-up snake on his chest. And in the mouth of the snake lying on the man's chest, a palm-sized, red stone glittered magically. That coffin was an ancient sarcophagus and the red magical stone embedded into the snake's mouth was the Philosopher's Stone. It was Voldemort's Phylactery.
Weeks flew by quickly and the Christmas holiday was just around the corner. For many people, Christmas was the most beautiful time of the year. It was a time when all members of the family reunited and celebrated together, in harmony and joy, feasting on delicacies and exchanging gifts. It was Harry's favourite moment of the year as well, he liked it even more than his birthday. Although it was already the 4th year since he had started this new life, he was still treasuring the time spent together with his new family as much as before.
Usually, the Tonks family, Bella and Harry, Narcissa Malfoy, and Sirius Black would all be gathered at Grimmauld Place on Christmas Day. It was a tradition that Bellatrix and Sirius had started after the older generation of Blacks passed away.
This year, however, things were different. The extended Black family was not at Grimmauld Place, it wasn't even in England. This year, they were all in Norway. Furthermore, their number had more than doubled.
«Ugh, they're so loud,» Harry complained in French as he huddled so close to the campfire that his clothes were starting to get singed.
«Stop groaning like an old man,» Fleur said in amusement and cast a Warming Charm on him.
«It didn't work, I'm still cold.»
«Then maybe this will work?» she said and embraced him tightly from behind.
«Mmm, much better.»
«Liar! It was the Warming Charm, not me.»
They laughed as they huddled together in front of the fire. On the other side of the campfire, opposite them, Sirus Black was rolling his eyes at their behaviour.
"Teenagers being in love... sheesh, look at them," he said expecting the person next to him to agree with him.
Said person, a buff-looking young man with red hair, said:
"Can you blame them? My brother is much older than them and still acts the same. Ah, I should've stayed with my Dragons in Romania."
Looking around, Sirius finally spotted them: Bill Weasley was holding hands with a pink-haired young woman and talking in whispers to each other.
"If you stay over for the New Year as well, I could introduce you to a few birds. The Rosiers are the ones in charge of holding the Yule Ball this year, by the way." Sirius said.
"No thanks. What's with women and their love for dancing, anyway?"
Sirius snickered at the misery in his voice.
Suddenly, the sound of a spoon hitting a cooker rang and a motherly voice spoke over the commotion:
"Everyone, the hot chocolate is ready! Come!"
With her thick winter clothes making her look plumper than she was and with a kind smile on her face, Molly Weasley exuded joy as she watched her children and her soon-to-be family crowding around her with their mugs up in the air.
Arthur Weasley and Ted Tonks were watching the scene in amusement as they tended to the second fire in their camp. Mr Tonks was throwing thick logs into the fire while Mr Weasley was using his wand to levitate towards the outside the stones around the campfire.
"Seeing how many of us are here we'll probably need a much bigger fire," Mr Weasley said and proceeded to also cast a Gemini Charm to duplicate the stones and enlarge the circle bordering the fire.
"The more the merrier!" Mr Tonks said, his voice filled with happiness.
"I 'ave never spent a 'oliday together with so many many people! It is incredible!" another man said, his voice carrying a distinct French accent.
His wife seemed to mirror his thoughts too if the way she was busily snapping pics all over the camp was anything to go by.
"You better get used to it. If their behaviour is anything to go by, we're probably going to become in-laws quite soon," Mr Tonks said with a laugh and pointed towards Harry and Fleur who seemed like they were lost in their own little world.
Seeing with how much love his daughter was looking at Harry, Mr Delacour could only smile.
"I don't know what exactly 'e 'ad done to charm my daughter like that but I fully support anyone that can make my little flower that 'appy. Do you see that smile? As a father, that's what I live for."
This year, four families - the Tonks, the Weasleys, the Delacours, and the Blacks - had agreed to spend Christmas together. The reason for that was that Bill Weasley had asked for Nymphadora Tonks' hand in marriage after returning from Egypt several weeks ago. With the pink-haired Auror saying Yes, the Weasleys and the Tonks decided to take the chance to spend more time together and get to know each other better. But Sirius and Bellatrix did not want to be left out and Fleur did not want to be away from Harry either so the Delacours ended up coming over as well.
What was normally a small gathering of the Black extended family at Grimmauld Place transformed into a big celebration in Tromso, Norway. The desolate rocky mountain peak where the four families had made their camp looked incredibly lively. The Weasley children and the youngest Delacour, Gabrielle, were playing in the snow while the adults were chatting and having a drink around the fire.
Suddenly, Bellatrix shouted as she pointed at the sky:
"The Northern Lights! They've come out!"
A chorus of gasps was heard as everyone looked at the sky at the same time and witnessed the magical sight. It was magic beyond what wizards and witches did. It was beautiful like they've nothing they had seen before. Out of everyone gathered there, only Sirius, Jean, and Apolline had seen the northern lights before. The rest were speechless. Even the naughty Weasley twins and Ron Weasley stopped pelting their older brother, Percy, with charmed snowballs and looked at the sky in wonder.
"Bloody hell! If only Neville and Hermione could've seen this!"
Given Ron and Neville's close friendship, the Weasleys and the Longbottoms had celebrated Christmas together before but the Weasleys could not invite the Longbottoms this year because this Christmas was special, reserved for family only.
As Harry took in the sight of the distant city lights reflected in the ocean, the night sky shining with fantastic green, blue, and purple lights, the snowy mountain peak, and the warmth of the campfire, he said to himself:
'What a wonderful world.'
He had travelled around the world extensively in his past life but he had never really stopped to admire the beauty of nature and take in the sights. He had been obsessed with getting strong, too obsessed with vengeance. But now that he was truly seeing nature's beauty for the first time he was overwhelmed with emotion.
But he was not the only one. Narcissa Malfoy was not even trying to hold back her tears. Ever since Voldemort had come back to life, she had lived in terror, hidden inside the Malfoy Manor, under the Fidelius Charm and the warding spells cast by her sister, Bellatrix. Afraid of Voldemort killing her for having misplaced his Diary Horcrux, Narcissa had not stepped foot out of her home for years except for the rare moments when she floo-ed to the Blackthorn or to Grimmauld Place. She had also not seen or interacted with any other people except for Bella, Sirius, Harry, and the Tonks. For the first time in several years, she was outside of the home she had almost started to view as her prison. She was finally out, together with other people, and she was witnessing such a magical sight too.
Seeing the tearful face of their sister, Bellatrix and Andromeda's eyes became wet too. Bella took Narcissa's hand in hers and squeezed it lightly while smiling at her.
The Christmas days passed and the four families all returned to their homes. The Weasleys went back to the Burrow, the Delacours went back to France, the Tonks went back to their home in London, and Harry and Bella returned to Blackthorn.
Now, it was the day before New Year's Eve, the 30th of December, and Harry and Bella were spending their time together, at home. While it was snowing heavily outside, Harry enjoyed the warmth from the fire crackling noisily in the hearth as he listened to the merry notes coming from the piano. Bellatrix was enthusiastically playing a piece by the Muggle composer Frederic Chopin - Grande Valse Brilliante. In Bellatrix's interpretation, the notes sounded light, merry and bouncy. It was the sort of song that lifted one's spirit and made one smile. Bellatrix making all sorts of funny faces while playing the piano also helped too.
Harry chuckled at her behaviour while absent-mindedly petting the two familiars huddled in his lap. It was not often that Harry was at the Blackthorn alone so Asmodeus took full advantage of it. In spite of how they both always talked smack and bickered, Big Head and Harry had grown attached to each other. Having shrunk to a more manageable size, the snake had coiled up in Harry's lap, letting out barely audible growls of comfort as Harry petted his head and his scales.
Not one to be left out Hedwig also flew from her perch next to the fire onto Harry's lap and landed right on top of Big Head's body. He had expected the two of them to start fighting but, to his surprise, Big Head did not as much as hiss when Hedwig plopped herself on him. It looked like the owl had been careful not to harm him with her talons and the snake was enjoying the extra warmth coming from Hedwig's plumage and body heat too.
As evening came, the city sprung to life. Edinburgh's New Year festival was one of the most famous in Europe. People from all over Scotland and even from beyond the borders of the UK came to join the fun and celebrate the end of the year together. Sounds of music and cheering crowds could be heard throughout the city.
"Aren't they a bit too loud?" Harry said slightly surprised.
"The torchlight procession must've started," Bella said with a shrug of her shoulders.
It was one of the most famous events held during the New Year Festival in Edinburgh. As many as twenty thousand people joined the event every year, lighting the streets of the beautiful city on fire.
"Wanna go out and join them too?" Harry asked.
Bella tilted her head at him. "We could do it if you wanted~"
She smiled. "Okay, let me put my coat on."
Although it was a Muggle festival, it was not like wizards were completely alien to the Muggle world. It was not the first time that Harry and Bellatrix would be joining the festival.
"Maybe next year we'll take Sirius, and Fleur and her family too with us. Would be more fun to go together," Harry said while wrapping a thick muffler around his neck and putting on some furred leather gloves.
Most people would choose to not wear their best clothes at the torchlight procession because of all the melted wax everywhere. But as a witch, Bellatrix did not have such worries. Wearing a beige Milanese fabric skirt that reached just above her knees, a white turtleneck sweatshirt, a chic beret on her head, and high-heeled knee-high black suede boots and a black coat, Bellatrix looked as classy as ever.
"Aren't you going to be cold like that?" he asked.
"I swear Fleur must've infected you with her weakness to cold," she said with a soft laugh.
"I don't wanna hear you complain that you're freezing when it gets dark and we've been walking down the streets for over an hour."
"Warming Charms exist, dummy."
"That still won't save you from getting a cold," he retorted.
"You don't get a cold from low temperatures. You get a cold if you catch a virus."
He looked at her for a few seconds silently before saying grumpily, knowing that he had nothing to say back to that:
She laughed out loud as she pulled him out of the house by his hand.
As they exited through the gates of the courtyard, the imposing gothic mansion seemingly disappeared into thin air. If there had been any onlookers, it would have looked as if Harry and Bellatrix had suddenly come into existence out of nowhere.
Seeing as the torchlight procession started from the Old Town, Bella decided to apparate somewhere closer to their destination but somewhere that was still private enough that other people would not notice their sudden arrival. She Apparated them in the Princes Street Garden, right next to Edinburgh Castle.
An incredibly loud noise hit their eardrums when they Apparated. However, it did not sound like cheering or the sound of a merry crowd of partygoers. There were no drumming noises and no bagpipe songs either. There was only screaming.
Harry and Bella unconsciously started running towards the main street from where the screams were coming from but when they got there, they froze in disbelief.
Hundreds of people were screaming in terror, pushing, shoving and stepping on each other as they desperately tried to run away from the monsters chasing them.
"Holy shit!" Harry cursed under his breath.
"Inferi?!" Bellatrix also said breathlessly.
Deathly white, their clothes soaked with blood, their movements awkward but fast, and with bite marks and missing chunks of flesh from their arms, neck, or even from their face, a legion of bloodthirsty Inferi was chasing after the fleeing crowd.