Joe's Note: A hell of a big thank you to the fifty-seven people over two sites who reviewed this story. And so now we move on to the second of four chapters dealing with the worst night of young Harry's life.
Dedications & Thanks: To Nicholas, Alexander, Howard, Alonsis2, Connor, MJ, Daniel, Christopher, Fablesrogue, Morgan, Janne, Eric, DireSquirrel, Joseph, Jason, mpop, RileyWestfall, bloodylord, Luke, Zachary, Marc, Ziryo, Elliot, Crusifikz70, Timothy, Leigh, Chris, George, Koby, Ken, Dimitria, William, Invernos, Paul, Pat, Joel, Kentucky Fried Dragon, Warren, Mitch, and Jess for sponsoring me on , and making it easier for me to spend more of my time writing.
June 18, 1996
The Ministry Atrium
London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom
"Luna Lovegood was this shell. I am Illyria."
What the bloody hell? Harry looked back and forth between the blue-tinged Luna and the twitching form of Bellatrix before deciding the thing masquerading as his friend was the bigger threat and training his wand on 'Luna'. "I don't understand. What do you mean by shell? Who the bloody hell is Illyria? Whoever you are, this isn't funny. My friends are hurt, Sirius Black is dead…"
"You think she cares, Potter?" Bellatrix let out a wheezy little laugh from where she lay on the floor, her dark eyes glittering with malicious glee as she stared up at him. "So ignorant of our world… just like your mother and all the other mudbloods. Don't you understand what you're staring at there? That… that's an Old One. The God-King, even."
Harry frowned and turned his attention back to the being who had called herself Illyria. Despite Bellatrix's assertions otherwise, the phrase 'Old One' did seem vaguely familiar… although given she knew exactly what they were and he didn't, perhaps there was also a bit of truth to her words, he was forced to admit. He had a sinking suspicion that it was something from one of Hermione's many lectures about subjects that didn't interest him in the slightest; something he'd nodded along to as he feigned interest without actually listening to the words coming out of her rapidly moving mouth. Old Ones… Old Ones…
Wait! Now he remembered. They'd come up during Hermione's 'research everything more than human' campaign earlier this year, when she'd been dead set on finding out everything about all the non-human sentient species that Voldemort might recruit. They were… some sort of prehistoric demonic entities, if Harry recalled correctly. But then how did that… had something possessed Luna while in the Department of Mysteries?
She certainly looked possessed. Luna's slightly oversized and protuberant eyes, formerly grey, were now a pale and icy shade of blue unlike any Harry had previously seen on a person. As inhuman as they were, though, they weren't nearly as unsettling as the odd, veiny patches of blue skin that ran along her hairline and down the sides of her neck. And… actually, compared to her eyes and skin, the streaks of blue in Luna's waist-length dirty blond hair seemed positively normal. There was no sign of the casual muggle clothing Luna had been wearing when they left Hogwarts earlier that evening; in its place was a multicolored catsuit that looked to be made several different kinds and qualities of leather over a sleek black bottom layer.
Stepping back, guilt hit Harry like a punch in the gut. His friends were hurt, Sirius was dead, and now Luna was possessed by a demon… all because of his mistake. Because he'd decided he knew better than the adults, and gone and fallen into a trap trying to rescue someone who wasn't even in danger. "If you can hear me… I'm sorry, Luna. I'm so sorry. We'll find a way to fix this. Maybe the headmaster can…"
"Do not bleat at me about things you do not understand, human. You seek absolution for something you had no hand in." Illyria stalked toward Bellatrix, her movements slightly jerky and inhuman, as if she wasn't quite used to operating a humanoid body. Then again, if she truly was some sort of prehistoric demon, Harry realized, she probably wasn't. "Will you continue your torture of this woman? I found her screams to be quite delicious. Although I find myself curious, why do you do so? I know from my shell that humans find such a thing unacceptable."
Keeping one eye on Illyria, Harry circled around to stand on the other side of Bellatrix, putting the supine woman between the two of them. "She murdered my godfather. She took away the only family I had that mattered to me."
"That is the grief I taste, then."
Illyria was silent for a moment, pondering that. "Your godfather… meant something to you. You cared for him. You… meant something to my shell. She cared for you. I find myself wishing to help you take vengeance. May I join you?"
Denial was on the tip of his tongue but then Harry forced himself to stop and think about the offer. He'd already used one Unforgivable that day - well, the same one twice, but who was counting? - and while it was unlikely that Bellatrix would try to press charges against him for using the Cruciatus on her… if he killed her himself? Questions would inevitably be asked. His wand would be examined. It would create all kinds of problems for him, none of which he wanted to deal with, especially with the way the Ministry had treated him and those close to him as of late.
Now, though? He might have another option. "Lun…alyria. You want to help me because Luna liked me?" Illyria nodded. "Even if that means killing someone?" Another nod, this one a bit more eager. "If… if I asked you to kill this woman for me, what would you require of me in return?" After all, nothing ever came for free and Harry wasn't naïve enough to assume this… being… would be any different.
A brief flicker of hesitation crossed Illyria's face. "The shell was not anticipating encountering me in this place, and so she had not yet secured for me a Qwa'ha Xahn." Harry's lack of comprehension must have shown on his face, because Illyria let out a soft sigh and waved her hand before explaining. "A high priest… a servant… a guide… all of these and yet none of them. Trying to put it into terms you can understand is like attempting to explain what the color red sounds like. At this moment, though, the term 'guide' would best define my needs. I require someone who can help introduce me to this strange new world. Explain its intricacies to me." She eyed Harry speculatively. "The shell was planning to ask you to assume this role when the time came, and so I will extend that offer to you now. I will take this woman's life and avenge your godfather's death for you if you become my Qwa'ha Xahn."
Luna had known this was coming? Or, more accurately, had been making plans concerning her own eventual possession? Harry didn't really know what to make of that, although it did ease his guilty conscience a tiny bit. It was something he could ponder - and perhaps discuss with her - another time, though; he had more pressing concerns at the moment. Such as Illyria's offer. On one hand, it was probably the closest he could get to making a deal with the devil… but on the other hand, Luna had been intending to extend the same offer to him and she was his friend. She wouldn't have deliberately screwed him over… right? Sighing in resignation, Harry nodded his agreement. At this point, all he could do was hope this wouldn't come back to bite him on the arse. Or that if it did, like everything in his life tended to, it wouldn't bite too hard. "Do I need to do anything to become your, err, Qwa'ha Xahn?"
"Put these on your dominant hand." Illyria held out her hand and presented Harry with a quintet of silver rings, each topped with a jagged hunk of some gem. "One ring per finger: white, blue, red, blue, white. They will eventually be absorbed into your flesh, and this method is far easier than cutting your flesh open and inserting mystical sacraments near your heart in accordance with the ancient ways."
Gulping, Harry snatched the rings up and slid them onto the fingers of his right hand. Yeah, the weird rings were a bit effeminate-looking, but it sure as hell beat having his chest cut open so that Illyria could stuff things into it. As the final ring slid onto his pinky, he felt a rush of power thrum through his body. "Wow…"
Illyria cocked her head to the side, eyes glazing over slightly. In his own mind, Harry could feel slight digging fingers, almost like the legilimency that Snape had used to violate his mind but far gentler and dare he say it, more natural? Snape and Voldemort, he'd wanted out of his head as fast as humanly possible. Illyria, on the other hand, felt almost as if she belonged there. It was as if he was racking his own mind for something he couldn't quite recall. "You have a war to fight. Many foes to kill." Her lips quirked up in a smile. "Oh, my shell has chosen well indeed. This shall be a most interesting experience for me." Looking down, her smile grew wider as she stared at Bellatrix. "And now, I shall fulfill our agreement, for I desire to do violence."
Backing away, Harry watched as Illyria went down on one knee beside Bellatrix. Instead of the spell he was expecting her to use, she simply took her prey's head between both hands and twisted sharply. There was a sharp crack and then Bellatrix went still.
Just like that, the woman who had killed Sirius… had tortured Neville's parents insane… was dead. Gone forever.
Lost in his thoughts, Harry almost missed when Illyria drew Luna's wand from… he wasn't quite sure, to be honest, nor was he entirely sure he wanted to know given how tight her outfit was. Illyria slashed it across Bellatrix's throat and a white disc of energy emerged from the tip of her wand, whining softly like a muggle saw before cleaving through the dead woman's neck. Fisting her hand in Bellatrix's hair, Illyria held up the separated head and examined it for a moment. With a flick of her wand, she stripped the hair and flesh away, the bare skull dropping toward the floor until Illyria's gloved hand shot out and plucked it out of the air. Holding it up, she presented it to Harry. "For you. A trophy by which to remember our victory over this foe."
Harry took the skull from Illyria, staring at it as he turned it over and over in his hands. But while he knew logically that he should feel horrified by his new 'trophy'… by the fact that a woman was dead because he'd asked for it to be so… he couldn't manage to feel anything but satisfaction. She'd never again ruin a family the way she'd ruined his and Neville's. "Thanks. The world is a better place without her."
"A very slippery slope, young Potter." Harry whirled around to find Voldemort standing directly behind him, wand at the ready. Holy shit! Why hadn't his scar warned him tha- "Today, you are justifying the deaths of your enemies. Tomorrow, it might be the accidental death of an innocent. Soon, you'll come to revel in death and destruction as I have. Oh, if only Dumbledore could see his golden boy now. But no matter. You have taken one of my favorite servants from me and smashed my prophecy. Just like your parents, you defy me and thwart my plans. And for that, you shall join them tonight. Avada Kedavra!"
As the blast of green magic roared toward him, Harry surrendered himself to the inevitable and let his mind drift, only to come to a rather depressing realization: he was going to die a virgin. Sirius was going to be so ashamed of him. Presumably his father, too, based on what Sirius had told him. Then the world warped around him, and he found himself standing on the opposite side of the Atrium as the Killing Curse sailed through where he'd just been standing. Removing her hand from his arm, Illyria stalked toward Voldemort. "You will cease in your attempts to harm my Qwa'ha Xahn or suffer the consequences."
Voldemort let out a high-pitched cackle, evidently recognizing the term. "Consorting with demons now, Potter? Interesting, but in the end it doesn't matter. I'll kill her, then you. Avada Kedavra!"
The second Killing Curse slammed into Illyria and she grunted as she dug her feet into the floor, the green curse pushing her back a few feet before she shrugged it off and continued her approach. "An interesting yet ultimately futile attempt to harm me. You cannot destroy a soul that does not exist."
"Impossible. Avada Kedavra! Avada Kedavra!" The two follow-up Killing Curses didn't do any more damage than the first and Voldemort scowled before switching tactics. "Crucio!" He held his wand steady for several seconds before snarling and taking a step back as Illyria proved to be equally immune to another Unforgivable. After a moment's thought, he opted not to try the third, but instead pointed his wand at Bellatrix's fallen form and summoned her to him.
Harry frowned as he watched the headless corpse slid across the floor, not realizing Voldemort's plan until he was already bending down to press the tip of his wand against the Dark Mark that adorned Bellatrix's left arm. "Look out! He's summoning…" The call was quickly answered as three Death Eaters popped into existence behind Voldemort, all of them directly connected to Bellatrix in some way. Rodolphus Lestrange, her husband. Rabastan Lestrange, her brother-in-law. And Lucius Malfoy, her brother-in-law by way of her sister Narcissa. If there was a worse combination of people who could have shown up at this particular moment in time, Harry couldn't think of it. "…backup."
Slowly rising, Voldemort thrust his wand out in Illyria's direction. "The Old One is responsible for Bellatrix's death, but seems to be immune to the Unforgivables. We will need to be… creative… in making her suffer."
"You will need to be creative if you wish to survive this encounter." Illyria stretched her arm out in front of her and then blurred forward, delivering a brutal palm strike that sent Rabastan flying clear across the Atrium, his body eventually striking the far wall and then dropping to the floor. He didn't move. Pivoting, Illyria ducked under an incoming spell in a sickly shade of yellow before curling her fingers around Rodolphus's ankle and yanking him off his feet. Rather than throw him across the room, as Harry was expecting, she twisted and swung his body into Lucius's. As the two men went down in a pile of tangled limbs, Illyria skipped forward two steps in a manner that was pure Luna… before bringing her foot down hard on Rodolphus's skull, crushing it. Lucius abruptly went very still, staring at the boot near his head with wide eyes, and Illyria sneered. "I would prefer to humiliate you thoroughly before killing you, Lucius Malfoy. Do not force my hand tonight."
"Depulso." Voldemort's calmly spoken spell sent a bright pulse of white light slamming into Illyria's chest, hurling her backward away from Lucius. She hit the ground a few yards away, rolling twice before hopping back to her feet and pointing her wand at the snakelike man. The two stared at each other for a moment, each assessing a largely unknown foe, and then Voldemort struck. Turning his back on Illyria, Voldemort sent a barrage of spells racing toward Harry. The air rippled and suddenly his human shield was back, Illyria interposing herself between her Qwa'ha Xahn and Voldemort. Their eyes met as she stood there calmly, letting each of the spells intended for him slam into her back and dissipate harmlessly… only to be blown forward into Harry as Voldemort finished with another Banishing Charm. The reflexes that made him the school's best seeker served Harry well as he wrapped his arms around Illyria's slender form, pulling her close so they hit the ground and rolled instead of going down in a messy pile the way Rodolphus and Lucius had. Voldemort let out another of his strange cackles at that. "Nothing that affects the soul or internal organs… but she's vulnerable to brute force. Good to know. What about elemental magic?"
Before Voldemort could engage in another experiment regarding Illyria's reactions to magic, a new person entered the fray. "It was foolish of you to come here tonight, Tom." Harry turned his head and let out a sigh of relief at the sight of Dumbledore stepping out of one of the lifts. "The aurors are on their way, and you have shown your hand. The Ministry was content to deny your return up until this point; now, they will have no choice but to recognize the threat you pose."
Voldemort shrugged at that, waving his wand back and forth to draw Dumbledore's attention to the three Death Eater corpses in the Atrium. Of Malfoy, there was no sign. "But they'll also have to recognize the company that your young protégé keeps and what he's done here tonight. That should keep them - and you - busy for now. Until we meet again, Dumbledore." Harry frowned at that; they weren't going to battle? Considering how badly Voldemort wanted both him and Dumbledore dead, that seemed a bit… strange. Then Voldemort thrust his wand out, releasing a torrent of flame that roared as it continued to grow even after the spell ended despite the absence of fuel, forming into a giant flaming basilisk that was easily as large as the one Harry had slain in the Chamber of Secrets. As soon as the tail touched the ground, Voldemort gave a mocking little bow and disappeared with a pop inaudible over the roaring flame.
Scrambling to his feet and then helping Illyria to hers, Harry watched the flaming basilisk warily as it looked from him to Dumbledore and back several times. Eventually, it came to a decision and lunged toward him and Illyria, perhaps deciding that they would be easier prey. Or maybe it was imbued with enough of Voldemort to target his current obsession over his long-standing one? Harry had no way of being sure exactly what the apparently sentient fire was thinking and honestly didn't care; at this point, his primary concern was survival. He raised his wand as he racked his brain, trying to decide how best to handle the situation. "Aguame-"
Stepping in front of Harry, Illyria raised her wand and whispered something too quiet for Harry to hear. A torrent of wind and snow spewed from her wand, shooting up to intercept the flame. It formed into the shape of some bizarre, monstrous creature, wrapping long tentacles around the body of the basilisk and hugging it close to its icy body. The basilisk screeched and fought but ultimately proved no match for Illyria's construct, eventually disappearing in a puff of oily smoke that smelled harshly of sulfur. The snowy monster gave one last imperious look around the Atrium before Illyria flicked her wand, the construct falling apart and showering them all with snow as it collapsed to coat the floor with a few centimeters of white powder.
And then it was just the three of them, at least for the moment. Harry eyed Dumbledore uncertainly, not particularly interested in answering the questions he assumed would be forthcoming about his behavior that evening and his new companion. But the headmaster just stood there silently, staring at Illyria with a contemplative look on his face. Illyria, on the other hand, seemed immune to it all as she stared off into space, presumably pondering God-Kingly things.
The standoff was broken as the fireplaces all around the Atrium flared, heralding the arrival of Minister Fudge, Percy Weasley, and dozens of others. "What's all this then?" Fudge stumbled forward, looking completely out of place with a robe thrown over his rumpled pajamas. "I was told that dark magic was detected here in the Ministry and that all available aurors were being called in."
Kingsley Shacklebolt stepped out from behind Dumbledore, adjusting his robes. Harry hadn't even seen the auror arrive… what did that say about his observational skills? "Dumbledore was right. You-Know-Who has returned. I was notified that dark magic was detected and apparated in. I saw him myself."
"Minister!" An auror that Harry recognized from the attack on Hagrid and McGonagall… Dawlish, his memory supplied… was kneeling beside Bellatrix's body. "We have fatalities!" He looked from her to where Rodolphus lay nearby and back, and then his eyes landed on her exposed left arm. Gasping loudly, he held it up so the inside of the forearm was easily visible. "She has the Dark Mark. There aren't too many female Death Eaters, either. I think… I think this might be Bellatrix Lestrange!"
The volume of conversation in the Atrium jumped at that revelation and Harry cringed, grabbing Illyria's wrist and trying to fade back into the crowd. Maybe he could get down to the Department of Mysteries and find his friends, then get out of here before anyone noticed him…
'I think not.' Illyria narrowed her eyes as she glanced back over her shoulder at him. For some reason, it didn't even bother Harry that she could speak into his mind. After all, she'd already seen his memories and Voldemort lived in his head too. What was one more passenger? 'I will allow you to share - or even take - credit for this battle because of your station, but no other. This was my victory. If you are unwilling or able to properly acknowledge it, then I will be forced to interact with your leader directly to do so.'
In other words, either Harry needed to step in and take credit for the Lestranges… or she would. Given that Harry could already tell that Illyria wasn't the type to suffer fools gladly and Minister Fudge's picture could be found in the dictionary next to the word? The word 'badly' didn't even begin to describe how that interaction might unfold. Drawing himself up to his full height, Harry took a deep breath. These people had practically canonized him back when he was still soiling his nappies. He'd never been comfortable with it and accordingly never taken advantage of it, but perhaps it was time to change that. Pushing his way to the front of the crowd, he cleared his throat and waited for Fudge to look his way before forcing himself to channel a bit of Lucius Malfoy, as distasteful as he found the idea. "Good evening, Minister. Perhaps I could shed some light on things for you?"
Eyes widening, Fudge took a step toward Harry. "Potter! I should have known that you would be involved in this. I guess Dolores was right about you all along. Aurors, take-"
Think like Lucius, not Draco, Harry reminded himself. Helpful and polite, but firm at the same time. That had gotten the blond Death Eater far with the minister, and would hopefully serve him just as well. "Would you like answers or not, Minister?" Harry raised one eyebrow challenging and Fudge trailed off with a scowl before nodding. Stepping past Fudge, Harry gestured down the body next to Dawlish. "Now… yes, that is indeed Bellatrix Lestrange. And over here we have Rodolphus Lestrange…" He pointed at the corpse with the crushed skull and then over at Illyria's third victim, who had gone unnoticed thus far. "…and Rabastan Lestrange. But I assure you that I have a perfectly good explanation for all of this." Drawing his wand, he flicked it back and forth, waiting for the crowd to clear a path before pointing it at the lifts. "Accio wanted posters!" Three sheets of parchment were torn off the wall between the two lifts, flying across the Atrium and into his hand. "Now… according to these, Amelia Bones of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement has authorized a reward of sixty-five thousand galleons a piece to anyone who can bring in the Misters and Missus Lestrange, dead or alive." Harry made a point of emphasizing the word 'dead' as he looked back over at Fudge. "Therefore, we were doing absolutely nothing illegal when we took their lives. One might even say that we were performing our civic duty as members of the wizarding world."
Fudge's mouth worked silently for several seconds as he processed that, and then he seized on the absolute last thing Harry expected. "We? Who's this 'we'? I only see one of you. Unless…" He looked around wildly, eyes eventually coming to land on Dumbledore. "Ah ha!"
"Harry was speaking of me, you foolish man." Forcing her way forward far less gently than Harry had, Illyria sidled up beside Harry on his right. "Bellatrix Lestrange was responsible for the death of my Qwa'ha Xahn's godfather and caused him much grief. In return, I opted to take her skull as a trophy."
Dumbledore's brow furrowed and then understanding dawned, causing the color to drain from his face. Fudge, on the other hand, was nowhere near as intelligent and did not make the same connection as Dumbledore. "Lestrange did what to who's what? Who are you?" Went Illyria didn't respond immediately, he gestured impatiently. "Speak up, girl!"
Snarling, Illyria brushed past Harry as she closed the distance between herself and Fudge, wrapping one hand around his throat and lifting him clear off the ground. "You will address me with respect, muck. I am not 'girl'. I am Illyria the Merciless, God-King of the Primordium and Shaper of Things." She leaned closer, staring into his wide eyes. "I should take your kingdom from you and make it my own. The shell and my Qwa'ha Xahn have memories that speak of your incompetence as a leader. It would be far too easy to remove you and become their king…"
Suddenly, every wand in the room snapped up to point at her, including Dumbledore's. Harry just sighed loudly. So much for letting him handle things…