Faery Heroes

Response to Paladeus's challenge "Champions of Lilith". Harry, Hermione, and Luna get a chance to travel back in time and prevent the hell that England became under Voldemort's rule, and maybe line their pockets while they're at it. Lunar Harmony; plenty of innuendo, dark humor, some bashing included; manipulative!Dumbles; jerk!Snape; bad!Molly, Ron, Ginny



41. Not So Silent Night

"You're trouble enough when you're sober, Sirius," Harry laughed with a roll of his eyes as he stood from his chair. "You'll have to excuse me if I refuse to take responsibility for whatever mess you get yourself into when you're drunk."

"Most kids your age would love to be allowed to get drunk with their godfather's permission," Tonks lamented, pulling out a trio of shot glasses from the cabinet. "Somehow, Sirius, this is your fault."

The Animagus simply huffed good-naturedly at the pair and pulled the bottle of firewhiskey closer to himself. "Just for that, you don't get any, either."

"Shut up and pour the damn drinks," Moody growled.

Taking that as his cue to go, Harry gave the three an exaggerated bow and left the room. He appreciated the offer, but there was no way he was going to let himself be caught in that situation. Joining Sirius for what the old dog said used to be a Marauder Christmas tradition would have been fun, and Tonks was definitely treating him with more equality than she had in the previous timeline or even that summer, but Moody was a deal-breaker. Much as he liked the paranoid semi-retiree, there was no way he was going to be even slightly inebriated in front of the man. Moody was just too clever.

Mione remarked more than once that I have looser lips than I ought when I'm too deep in my cups, he recalled as he walked up the stairs to the third floor, and giving Mad-Eye hints that I'm not exactly who I claim to be would be very, very bad. The neutralizing potions are good, but they don't last forever. All they would need to do if they believe I'm an impostor is wait it out and force-feed me Veritaserum. Our secrets need to stay secret to everyone but the three of us.

He shrugged his concerns away for the moment and pushed open his door. Immediately upon seeing what was inside, he turned around and glanced back at the stairwell to make sure he was on the right floor. Unfortunately, he was. "Ginny, would you like to explain to me exactly what you're doing in my bedroom?"

The redhead smiled faintly. "I… I was waiting for you."

"I can see that," he allowed suspiciously, "but why were you waiting for me?"

"Er… Well… That is…" She took a deep breath and pointed to the gold ribbon she had tied into a bow around her throat, her blush rising past her cheeks to turn the tips of her ears the same shade of red as her hair. "I have a present to give you. Are… Don't you want to unwrap it?"

Closing his eyes wearily, he let out a deep sigh. Was it too late to go back down and join in on the drinking? "Ginny, I really don't have the patience to deal with this right now. I just want to go to bed."

"Okay," she said, not getting up from where she was sitting on the side of said bed.

"…That was a nice way of saying 'get out'."

She stood this time, but rather than walk out the door as he was hoping – but not expecting – she would, she crept a few steps closer to him. "Harry, I know you don't mean to, but you're… you're hurting me, hurting me so much. Every time I see you laughing with Luna or cuddling on the couch with Hermione, it feels like my heart is being torn out of my chest. I… I love you, and—"

"No, you don't." The girl blinked in shock at his statement. "You don't love me. You don't even know me. I understand that you have a crush—"

"It's not a crush!" she screeched, shocking both of them. After a moment, she continued in a softer voice, "It's not. I know what I feel for you. I've loved you my whole life—"

"You loved the Boy Who Lived," he interrupted again. She looked at him in confusion. "What you are so attracted to isn't a person; you're after an idea, a hero figure who never really existed. I'm not him, and to be honest, I wouldn't want to be. I'm perfectly happy just being me."

She shook her head. "But you are a hero. You defeated You-Know-Who when you were a baby. You saved me from the basilisk and from Tom. Why do that if you aren't a hero? Why charge into the Chamber if you don't love me?"

Trust me, there have been times when I've wondered if I shouldn't have let you die down there. It would have made my life that much simpler. He was being unfair, he knew; at only eleven years old, she had done absolutely nothing to deserve dying alone in a hole in the ground. It was her older self, especially her eighteen-year-old self, that he had on several occasions wanted to feed to a giant snake.

"There's the mistake you're making. I didn't beat Voldemort; my mum did." Time to shatter her little fantasy, he thought with a mental grimace. How many lies was he going to spin this holiday? "And I didn't go into the Chamber to save you."

"Yes, you did."

"No, I didn't. I went down there to kill the basilisk because there was talk of closing Hogwarts. I couldn't let that happen; that was the first place I ever called home. That I figured out where the Chamber was hidden on the same day Tom made his play was pure happenstance. Had I realized it was in the girls' bathroom earlier, I would have dealt with it then." He shot her a sharp glare when she opened her mouth, and she backed down. "And I wasn't worried about you because of anything to do with you. Ron was my best friend at the time, and he asked me to help you. If you weren't his little sister, I wouldn't have cared in the slightest if you lived or died."

Ginny gaped at him. "You… Yes, you would have. You're just saying that to make me go away."

You're right, but for all the wrong reasons. "I have better things to do than make up stories to tell you. That's the cold, hard truth, whether you like it or not."

She shuddered at his dismissive tone, and for a short moment he allowed himself to hope that he had successfully destroyed her childhood crush on him. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Squaring her shoulders, she shot back, "Well, it doesn't matter why you did it. You saved my life, and I love you for it, no matter what you think. That's why…" She took a deep breath and said very quickly, "That'swhyIwanttobeyourgirlfriend."

"What was that?" he asked with trepidation. He had a feeling he knew what she had said, and he desperately wished he was mistaken.

"I want to be your girlfriend."

Yep, I should have stayed down there and gotten sloshed, after all. "I'm pretty sure you figured this out, but I already have a girlfriend. Two of them, in fact. I'm very much off the boyfriend market."

"I know," she whispered. "Everyone knows you're dating Luna and Hermione. That's the thing. I'm not asking you to leave them; I just want to join in. If you have two girlfriends, it wouldn't be too much trouble to add a third, would it?"

That's new, he finally thought. Even in the old timeline, she never tried this route. It was always 'Quit playing around with them and come back to me' and 'I'm the one you really love' and 'You're breaking my heart. Come back home'. Not once did she ask to join our family. "It might have escaped you, but things aren't that simple. Even if I wanted to date you – which, quite frankly, I don't – Mione and Luna aren't competing for my affections. They are in love with each other as much as they are with me."

A moue of distaste crossed her face before disappearing. "Well then, I guess when they're off spending time with each other, you could have me all to yourself."

"What part of 'I don't want to date you' are you having so much trouble understanding?"

"Harry, please." The girl took a couple of steps toward him, only to stop when he moved sideways to keep the same eight feet of distance between them. She completely missed him nearly drawing his wand. "Have you considered that if we started dating, maybe you'd realize that you love me, too?"

All right, this has gone long enough. She may not be as single-minded about this as her older self was – probably because I didn't make the mistake of dating her this time around – but she still isn't listening. Now the only question is do I try a compulsion on her? Compulsion charms, for all the skill he had with them, still had limitations he had never been able to work around. A compulsion was at its most fundamental level just a subliminal suggestion to make someone do something or, if he wanted to be really fancy, to think something. Unfortunately, how well such a spell worked depended not only on his own ability, but also what he was trying to cause and how his victim already felt about that action. He could not, for instance, induce any but the most heartless of parents to murder their own children, but moving a wizard to drink an unknown potion brought to them by someone he thought a friend was child's play.

That was why he could make Death Eaters kill each other so easily. They may be working towards the same goal, but many of the bigoted Purebloods hated each other just as much as they did Muggleborns, likely the result of decades or even centuries of minor conflicts among their families festering away in the back of their minds. For all his faults, Voldemort really should be praised for his ability to make them work together in the first place.

So, much as he wanted to compel Ginny to abandon her impossible dream, he was not at all sure that he could. The redhead in the original timeline was too fixated on her goal to be shaken from it; would he have any better luck with this one?

There was only one way to find out.

Harry stared her straight in the eyes and pushed. Wandless Legilimency was normally far harder than breaking into someone else's mind with a wand, but thanks to the boost to his magical strength he had received from their ritual, he barely noticed as time seemed to slow to a crawl and his mind leaked out from behind his own eyes.

Whenever someone forced himself into another's head, a bit of disorientation was to be expected. No two people were the same, so it only made sense that what was to the subject a perfectly logical chain of thoughts was a flurry of seemingly unconnected snippets of memory to the intruder. All that said, Harry considered himself a rather experienced Legilimens, but he was not at all ready for the storm he found himself dropped into.

Five-year-old Ginny bounced in her bed as her daddy settled himself in the chair beside her. "Okay, pumpkin, what do you want me to read you tonight?"

"The Boy Who Lived!"

"Honey, I've told you about him every night for two weeks now," he reminded her gently. "Don't you want to hear something else, just for tonight? What about Babbitty Rabbitty; you love that story."

"No! I wanna hear about the Boy Who Lived!" She smiled brightly at her daddy. "He's so brave and handsome and sweet. I'm gonna marry him when I grow up."

Her daddy gave her a weak grin at that but, as she had asked, summoned the familiar red and gold book. "Okay, honey. If you're sure that's what you want. 'Once upon a time, there lived a little boy…'"…

Ginny fretted away as her mother patted down her pure white gown. "I don't know if I can do this, Mum. I mean, there are so many people…"

"Well, I told you not to send a general invitation to be published in the Daily Prophet. This is the marriage of the century; did you really expect anyone not to come?"

She peaked out through the flap of her bridal tent and gasped. Was the entirety of Magical Britain camped out on the Burrow's lawn? "Maybe you're right," she finally whispered.

"Of course I'm right. I'm your mother." Her mum laughed and rested warm hands on her shoulders. "Don't worry. I know it looks scary now, but you're getting married. This is your and Harry's day. Push the fear away and just enjoy it."…

Opening her eyes, Ginny took in the sight before her. Harry, the Harry Potter, was kneeling on the wet ground, blood soaking his dark school robes and a shining silver sword clutched tightly in his hand. He offered her a weak grin that made her insides feel funny, and averting her eyes so he wouldn't see her blush, she noticed the tiny black book that had made the past year a waking nightmare. Tears streamed down her cheeks, and she hurled herself into his arms and babbled in fear, at the same time greedily accepting the comfort his warm embrace offered…

Smoke surrounded the family of five as they hustled onto Platform 9¾; just like when Ginny had been the one riding the Express, they were never able to arrive any time but just before it was time for the train to depart. "Now James, I don't want to get any letters saying you've been causing trouble again. I mean it! If I do, I'll come up there and bend you over my knee!"

"Come on, Mum, it's just a bit of fun," her elder son protested, the wide grin he had learned from his prankster uncles forcing her to smile a bit herself. "But if it bothers you that much, I guess we can tone it down for a short while. Maybe a week. Or three days."

"Or the whole term," she rejoined before pulling the boy in for a hug that he quickly tried to escape. Apparently being thirteen meant it was no longer 'cool' to get hugs from his mother anymore. "Be good, and promise me you'll look after Albus this year. You know how he gets around new people and new places."

"That's if he gets sorted into Gryffindor. There's no telling with him; he might wind up a Snake."

She laughed. "Yes, because that's such a strong possibility considering who his family is."…

"This is the year," Ginny heard Ron say from up the stairs as they packed to leave for whatever safe place Professor Dumbledore had arranged for them this summer. "This year, I'll make Hermione understand that I like her."

A brief smile flickered across her face as she swept the last of her robes into her trunk. It was nice to hear that he was finally getting together the courage to ask the girl out. Everyone knew that those two were meant for each other; they were complete opposites in every conceivable way, and didn't everyone say that opposites were supposed to attract?

Besides, if Ron was finally mature enough to have an interest in romance, it meant Harry was, too.

She twirled a bit in joy. This was the year, all right. She had loved him all her life, and now it was time for her to guide her knight in shining armor home…

Harry gasped as he pulled himself out of Ginny's mind, reeling from what he had just seen. The girl rushed forwards to help, and reflexively he whipped his wand out and flicked a scarlet stunner into her chest. He could not bring himself to worry overmuch when she landed unconscious at his feet; there were other things he had to deal with.

In the previous timeline, he, Hermione, and Luna had already distanced themselves from the Weasleys for a couple of years when he began his study of mind magics, so he had never had a chance to examine the old Ginny's mentality. This one's, however, was beyond worrying.

Two of those… I know they were nothing more than hopes for the future, but they felt so real, just as real as the actual memories. From her perspective, though they haven't happened, they might as well have. No wonder she was so insistent that we get together.

He shook his head to try to clear his thoughts. For those dreams to feel so real was an extremely bad sign. Imagination normally had a wispy, ethereal quality to it; any Legilimens with any experience whatsoever would be able to distinguish it from actual memory. That he couldn't could mean only one thing.

When it came to him, Ginny was incapable of distinguishing her fantasy from reality.

Because Merlin forbid that my life be easy. She's as obsessed with me as Snape was with my mum, he griped as he waved his wand to erase practically the entire conversation from the redhead's mind and then implanted a false memory of walking back to her room after his initial rejection. Nothing he could do would get through to her, so he did not feel quite as bad about further violating her mind as he otherwise would have. Disillusioning the both of them, he levitated her down the stairs and onto her bed before returning to his own room.

He locked the door and stared for a moment at the blank wall that months previously had held Regulus's newspaper clippings about Voldemort's rise. Right this minute, he needed to do something, and plotting how to hurt the madman further was as good as any other option. It would not solve his newest problem, but it would certainly make him feel better.

The soil was soft and moist under Neville's hands as he patted it back down around the recently replanted Danish Snowblossoms. These flowers were at their healthiest in the winter months, and that was the perfect time to separate the bulbs and prevent overcrowding in their beds. Snowblossoms liked lots of space; too many packed together was a sure way to come into the greenhouse one day and find all of them wilted and dead.

Not for the first time was the boy incredibly grateful that his mother had loved Herbology as he did when she was a student. This was his sanctuary, the one place in the entire Longbottom estate where he was free of expectations and demands and constant criticisms. The one place where he was free. After the annual visit to St. Mungo's that morning to see his parents, he desperately needed to be alone. Perhaps that was why he felt drawn to the snowblossoms every year when he returned from the hospital. Just like them, he sometimes felt the presence of others to be a crushing weight on his shoulders.


He winced when he heard that sound, for it could only be one thing: his grandmother was yet again intruding into the location he used to escape her. Sure enough, the woman, visibly aged beyond her mere sixty-nine years, strode imperiously down the aisles. "Neville! What have I told you about spending all your time in here?!"

"That I have more important things to do than piddle around with flowers all day," he answered monotonously. He knew better than to waste time arguing with her about this; no matter what he said, she would ignore his words in favor of spouting her own opinions. It was the way life in this house had always been, and as much as he hated it, there was nothing he could do to change that.

"Then why are you still here? Your parents did not give up their health and sanity so their only son could hide himself away with a bunch of plants! They would have wanted you to become a brave wizard, like your father was!"

Mum wouldn't have mindedIf she were healthy, she'd probably be in here with me, he told himself. It was an old, tired refrain, but he had to have something, anything to keep him from collapsing under the burden of his grandmother's implacable demands. He had to believe that at least one person would have been proud of him for who he was rather than who he wasn't.

"Now get back inside and wash up. If you have time to waste, you have time to practice your transfiguration. With the marks you have right now, I fear for you ever qualifying for the NEWT course, and then where would you be?"

It's not like I can make it in life with Charms.

"It's not like you can make it in life with Charms, after all. I swear, some days I don't know what to do with you…"

Neville rose from his knees and was about to turn to the water bucket to clean his hands when a question sprang to mind. What would Harry do if he were here? It was not as odd a thought as it might have been a few months earlier; before this year, Harry had always been the Boy Who Lived, the Defense Against the Dark Arts prodigy, the teenaged hero. He held himself apart from everyone but Hermione and Ron, and though he had never been arrogant or boastful, he was still someone Neville knew only in passing. Even after living together for four years, the blond could not say that he had really known anything personal about his roommate.

Then again, he could say the same about all the Gryffindor boys.

This year, though… This year, something had changed. When they returned from summer holiday, Harry had been different. Self-possessed, confident, dating not one but two very pretty girls; it was as if he had become a different person. Neville had been expecting him to continue as he had for the past four years, and after seeing the veiled disdain – an understandable emotion, admittedly, considering the Prophet's mudslinging – in the boy's eyes every time he looked at the other students, the shy Lion thought he would pull himself away even farther.

Instead, Harry had done something totally unexpected. He had drawn others in.

Neville still did not understand why he was one of the five Harry had chosen to tutor in Defense. He did not understand why Harry had agreed on multiple occasions to help him with a spell he was having difficulties with, even when that meant putting aside his own homework. He did not understand why Harry had taken such a sudden interest in him and his wand and how he was doing in his classes.

And he most definitely did not understand why or how a boy his own age – a boy one day his junior, in fact – could have changed into someone he looked up to almost like an older brother. But, much to his consternation and delight, he did not need to understand. All that mattered was that, for once in his life, there was someone standing by him. Teaching him. Encouraging him. Guiding him.

What would Harry do if he were here now? Neville was not entirely sure, but he knew what Harry would not do. He would not bend to someone else's demands.


His grandmother turned around at his quiet denial. "What was that?"

"I said no." The woman stared at him in incomprehension, and a tiny flame flickered into being inside his chest. "I'm not leaving right now. I'm not doing any work in Transfiguration. For once in my life, I'm doing what I want to do."

"Neville Franklin Longbottom! I am your grandmother, and you will treat me with respect!"

The flame flared, filling his body with uncomfortable heat. "Why? You never treat me with any! You're always taking me away from what I love to do so you can make me do what you want me to do, and I'm tired of it! I have my own dreams, Gran, and just because they're not what you want for me doesn't mean they're wrong!"

"Dreams?!" her shrill voice demanded. "Dreams of what, working with plants all day?! I won't stand for it!"

"It's my life!"

"And you're making a mistake! Your parents didn't sacrifice everything they had so you could pretend to be a gardener!" He reeled in shock, but the fire inside him refused to die. Instead it rose higher, licking the back of his eyes. "Why, your father—"

"I'm not my father!" he screamed at her, his words actually forcing her back a step. "I'm Neville, not Frank! I will never be him, and I don't want to be him!"

"Neville… How could you say something like that?"

He glared, actually glared, at the old woman. "Because it's the truth. My entire life, you've tried to turn me into a replacement for him, but I'm not him. You force me to do things I hate because he liked them; you take away the things I'm good, really good at just because he wasn't." He hesitated a moment before allowing the awful truth out. "You try to take everything of Mum's away from me so I'll just be a copy of Dad, and then you're disappointed when I don't measure up.

"Did you ever love me, or do you just see me as a way to bring your son back?"

She stared at him, her wide eyes filled with some emotion he couldn't place.

He motioned to the greenery around them. "This greenhouse, Mossy told me Dad had it built for Mum because she loved Herbology. Professor Flitwick said that she was the head of the Charms Club when she was a student. Every Boxing Day when we go to St. Mungo's, she gives me a few bubblegum wrappers, but the nurses say that she won't let anyone else even come near them. These are the only things I have left of my mother; why do you want to take them away from me so much?"

His grandmother did not answer; she was so still that he was unsure if she had even heard him. Sidling past her unmoving form, the flame inside him dying to embers but not going out completely, he left the greenhouse and gently closed the door. Had he waited a few seconds more, he would have heard the thump of knees hitting the hard-packed earth and the sobs of a heart breaking into little pieces.

Harry leaned back against the wet wood as Luna's idle humming intertwined with the lapping water against the boat's hull. This would be the last chance for any of them to relax for the next few hours. Tonight was their most ambitious break-in to date, and soon they would either be walking through the halls as if they owned the place or running for their lives.

The mists cleared slightly, and like a black sword rising from the sea, Azkaban loomed before them.

"You're sure these medallions will work, Blue?"

"I double- and triple-checked the arithmancy, Red. Their equations are close enough to the Patronus Charm that, while they won't exactly scare anything off, they'll certainly keep the Dementors at a healthy distance. They might also lessen the Dementors' aura, but I'm not sure about that."

"Won't be the first time we've had to fight through it," he muttered. Almost a year after the Muggles officially entered the Third Voldemort War, the Dark Lord had lost control of those monsters, and they had gone on a feeding frenzy, consuming whole towns and breeding in the abandoned buildings. For four months the two sides had, if not actually allied with each other, at least set aside most of their animosity in the campaign against their common enemy. It turned out that, while sturdy and magically resistant, Dementors could not withstand either Fiendfyre or a few hundred pounds of high explosive.

They could, however, ignore the Killing Curse, which had apparently prompted some debate within the Ministry over whether they should be classified as beings or spirits before the war heated up again and everyone had bigger things to worry about.

The ferry slid neatly into the small dock on the island, and the trio disembarked. Thankfully, they did not need to worry about their ride disappearing and leaving them trapped on the isle; much like the boat in the cave where Voldemort hid Slytherin's locket, this ship was enchanted to move on its own and could be summoned by tapping one's wand against a small panel at the end of the pier.

"Stick together. We don't want to find ourselves alone and surrounded by guards and Dementors," Luna warned as they climbed the stairs. Harry nodded at the sound advice; they were not going to raid this place, so safety rather than speed was their priority. If they moved slowly and methodically, they would also be less likely to miss someone who could sound an alarm and bring the rest of the DMLE on top of their heads. They were experienced and powerful, but he would still rather them not have to fight their way out through a swarm of Hit Wizards and Aurors.

The doors opened silently at their approach, and a guard blinked drowsily at them. "Stupefy," Harry softly intoned, the man collapsing before he could shout out a warning to his fellows. Quickly transfiguring the officer into a mouse and summoning him to put in a belt pouch, the time-traveler pointed at the intersection ahead of them. "We go left and work our way back here before we leave this level; that way we won't have to worry about anyone catching onto us and sounding an alarm. We also need to find a map and an empty room, or even better, the warden's office. I'd rather not be carrying a bunch of guards around in my pocket."

Clearing the ground floor was far easier than the trio had expected; there were no Dementors, just a dozen DMLE workers stationed at various points throughout the triangular structure. Only two pairs of guards had even had a clear line of sight between them, which meant that as long as the thieves were quiet, no one knew that their numbers were rapidly dwindling. The warden's office was located at the back of the floor and clearly marked, so the intruders forced their way through the door, stunned the man inside, and moved him along one wall with his untransfigured subordinates beside him.

Hermione grabbed the large ledger-like book on the desk and quickly flipped through it. "Found them. The Death Eaters are on the top floor, just like we expected. Now the question is just how do we get up there?"

"The stairs, of course," Luna answered, laying a wide scroll on the warden's desk and unrolling it. "Back right corner, a single stairwell leading all the way up. Do you have cell numbers?"

Locating their targets on the map, they left the office to find the stairs. There were thirteen stories in the building, with the inmates contained within having committed progressively more heinous crimes as one climbed. The air also became colder, which the trio interpreted as there being more Dementors present.

Harry shoved open the ice-caked door at the top of the stairwell and jumped back in shock when he saw a Dementor stationed immediately behind it. The creature screeched and waved its clawed hand at them, though it did not attempt to move any closer. While he was glad that the medallions worked as advertised, the crowd of demons gathering behind the first was more than a little worrying.

Hermione cleared her throat softly. "So, what's the plan for getting past them? We don't know how to cast Fiendfyre, and I'm fresh out of bombs."

"We don't have to destroy them, much as I would like to," he answered, aiming his wand at the heart of the foremost Dementor. "We just need them away from us. Expecto Patronum!"

The spell, fueled by the joy and love he always felt in the presence of his lovers, burst out of his wand in a wall of light that flung the Dementors away before coalescing into a ghostly hart. It pawed the stone floor with one foreleg and lowered its head in preparation for a charge; the Dementors, apparently reading the signs as well as Harry did, chose prudence over valor and fled. The monsters gone, he let the spell die.

"Let's hope you didn't just give our identities away with that," chastised the brunette. "The Ministry knows your Patronus is a stag. If the Dementors tell them what they saw, we're in trouble."

"It won't matter if they do," the blue-masked girl rejoined. She pushed her way past them and started walking down one hallway. "The Ministry knew about it because they put him on trial this past summer in the old timeline. That didn't happen this time, so the only ones who know that fact are the three of us. So long as you don't go blabbing…"

"I would never!"

Harry rolled his eyes and followed the pair to one of the cells. A glance inside revealed a short, emaciated man, his brown hair matted with grime. "Augustus Rookwood?"

"Who wants to know?" the former Unspeakable asked, turning to gaze at him with dull eyes. "You sure don't look like a guard. Nice mask, if a little childish."

"You talk like your own was any better."

Rookwood shrugged one shoulder apathetically. "It had its uses. With everyone wearing the same thing, no one knew how many of us there really were. A dozen? Fifty? A hundred? Were we even human, just or simulacra animated by the Dark Lord? That uncertainty and the fear it caused was a powerful weapon."

His jaw clenching, he asked tightly, "Do you regret what you did? The people you killed?"

"They shouldn't have stood in our way. If they had any pride as wizards, they would have supported us."

"What about the Muggles?"

"You said people," Rookwood scoffed. "Wizards are people. Muggles, they don't even qualify as animals; at least animals you can get some work out of. They're just worthless scum plaguing the earth, and the Mudbloods they spawn—"


Blood and brain and bone splattered against the far wall, and Rookwood's headless corpse fell to the ground. Harry sighed, but he could not say that this was a surprise. Their plan was simple: in the previous timeline, Voldemort had attacked Azkaban shortly after the students returned to Hogwarts to free his imprisoned followers, and the time-traveling trio would not let that happen again. At Hermione's recommendation, they would visit each cell individually, using verbal questions or Legilimency to ascertain which – if any – among them were different in this timeline than in their original one. Any who regretted his choices and was willing to stand against his old master would be freed, any who wanted to stay out of the coming conflict would be left here to continue paying for his past crimes, and any who still believed in Voldemort's cause…

Well, the Dark Lord could not be allowed to regain his most devoted supporters.

Dolohov was next on their path, and a peek into his mind revealed that fourteen years in prison had not changed his views. Mulciber was the same. Travers, too. Selwyn. Rhodes. Montague. The Lestrange brothers. None of them survived his interrogation.

Harry was silent as they walked to the last cell. This was the person whose mind he wanted to enter the least should talking fail, but of the three of them, he was the only one with any skill or experience with mental magic. The snout of his mask slipped between the bars in the door. "Bellatrix Lestrange."

A huddled lump in one corner stirred, and the mass of kinked black hair on top shifted slightly. "Someone's come to visit little Bella? Who could it be?"

"Who I am is unimportant," he answered evasively. "You merely need to know that I am the one who will decide your fate."

"Decide… my fate?" The question was soft, tentative, and Harry feared that his nightmare was about to become truth. Bellatrix was one of the few people he could say that he hated with all his heart; if changing timelines meant that the woman who had murdered Sirius was undeserving of this punishment, he did not know how he would respond.

Still, he forced his emotions away and replied, "Yes. Are you still loyal to the Dark Lord Voldemort?"

"…He sent you?" He leapt away when the woman surged forwards and shoved her left arm through the grate to grab him, Dark Mark standing out starkly against her pallid skin. "I knew it! I knew He would come for me! His power is eternal, His magnificence undeniable! Take me to Him that I may kneel at His feet once mo— Aaaah!"

Her arm from the elbow down fell to the ground, and she immediately retracted the remaining stump. He approached the door again, his teeth grinding. "I don't think I can tell you just how much I want to hurt you, to make you suffer. You were the one who taught me how to cast the Cruciatus, did you know that? You said that it needs real hate to work. I want so much to show you how I've improved at it since then."

A hand was laid on his shoulder, and he turned to look at the blue mask staring back at him. Luna did not say a word, merely stood there offering her silent support, and though Hermione had her back to them so she could watch for any approaching guards, she turned her head for a moment to glance at him. He did not know for sure what emotion she meant to convey, but he chose to believe that she, too, was encouraging him to do what was right.

He looked back at the murderess. "But as much as I want revenge for who you took from me, I know I can't have it. I can't be the one to kill you; if I were, I would enjoy it too much, and I refuse to go down that path again. Blue, I hate to ask you…"

"And you know you never have to." The blonde took his place at the door and aimed her wand between the bars. "Reducto."

A wet splash signified the woman's demise.

The long walk down the stairs to the first floor and back out to the docks was quiet, the silence broken only by Hermione casting Voldemort's Dark Mark into the sky above them as an additional taunt. Harry could vaguely hear the girls whispering behind him, but he was too preoccupied to listen.

'Strange likenesses', a young Tom Riddle had once told him. He and Voldemort shared several traits: resourcefulness, determination, stealthiness, self-reliance, charisma. They both had a talent for the Mind Arts, though Harry's was by far the greater, and they found the practical aspects of magic to be simple to grasp. To the younger man's regret, there was another similarity between them, a certain ruthlessness and callousness whilst he was drowning in his anger. He still recalled his first successful use of the Cruciatus Curse; would any normal person have been able to muster so much hate over such a minor offense as Amycus Carrow spitting on McGonagall?

That was why, after Ron's betrayal of the Order of the Phoenix during the Third War, had had made an oath to himself that he would never again cast the Killing Curse at another living person. He felt the redhead had deserved to die, as would likely any outside observer, but there was a difference between a just execution and relishing in revenge. It was a fine line in his life, where he had again and again been at the center of a war, but also an important one.

His promise, therefore, was about more than just using an Unforgivable. If he could not divorce his motives from his emotions, decide solely with impartial reason that death was a necessity, he refused to be the one to cast the fatal curse. The encounter with MacNair the previous month had blurred that crucial line and reinforced the need for emotional distance. One of his greatest fears, second only to the loss of his loves, was waking up one day and realizing that he had become the man he had stood against his entire life.

The boat nudged gently against the shore, and Harry looked up to find that they had already returned to the mainland. Had he really been that out of touch with his surroundings?

Hermione's hand on his arm drew his attention. "Did you tell anyone that you were leaving, or did you just sneak out?"

"Snuck out, obviously. What was I supposed to say, that I had to go so I could break into Azkaban and kill a few Death Eaters?"

"There's no need to be rude," she retorted. "Luna and I were talking it over, and I'm going to spend what's left of the night with her. Are you coming, too?"

"You really shouldn't be alone right now," Luna agreed.

He smiled behind his mask. This was the reason he did not concern himself with his fears too often; these two wonderful women would always keep him on the right course. "We'll need to get up early so you can Apparate back to your parents' house and I can return to Sirius's, you know."

The blonde giggled. "Silly Harry, that's what Time-Turners are for."

"Well in that case—" A short series of cracks farther up the road interrupted him, and he barely withheld a groan. "Now what?"

"Do you think we tripped a silent alarm?" Hermione questioned.

"Could be that, could be Voldemort's making his play earlier than last time." Thinking quickly, he pointed to the thin forest flanking them and ordered, "Disillusion yourselves and get behind some trees. If this is an enemy and you have a clean shot, take it."

The girls nodded and disappeared into the shadows. Summoning a rock to his hand and quickly charming it, Harry waited to greet their unexpected guests.

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