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



49. Wages of Sin

Panting for breath, Voldemort shot a quick glance over his shoulder and leapt over a fallen tree trunk to crouch behind it. How long had they been chasing him? Days? Weeks? Months? It was impossible to tell anymore, if he ever could at all.

A horn blasted to one side rather than behind him, and he cursed harshly before running again. He had not slept in three days, nor eaten in five, and it was beginning to show. His endurance was running out; he needed to find someplace to rest, even if for a few hours, but there was nowhere for him to hide in this damnable forest!

"Potter, when I get out of here, I'm going to mutilate you," he hissed through his teeth. "You and everyone you know and love, starting with those slags of yours. I'll make you regret ever doing this to me!"


Voldemort groaned as awareness flooded back into him, and a moment later his memory returned as well. The intruders! He tried to stand, only to find thick metal rings binding his wrists and ankles and bands of leather wrapped around him to hold his legs together and his arms to his torso. The only part of his body that he could still move freely was his head, and he twisted that around to glance at his captor.

"You," he growled upon seeing the black-clad figure looking down at him, the red fox mask displaying its eternal smirk.

"Me." The wizard laughed in his metallic voice. "You know, I thought taking you out was going to be hard. We spent an entire year working to bring you down, and it turns out that getting rid of your Death Eaters was actually the hardest part. You? You were laughably easy."

He gnashed his teeth silently at that. Finally, he demanded, "How did you sneak into my lair?"

The red-masked intruder rubbed his chin for a moment. "You know, I don't really want to tell you." Chuckling again, he pulled out a pale wand and pointed it at the Dark Lord. Voldemort was sure that he was about to be on the wrong side of a Killing Curse – again – but all the other wizard did was levitate him to an upright position. "Besides, I think you should be more concerned with where you are now."

What is he talking about? Voldemort looked away from the man, and his eyes widened at what he saw. Right in front of him, not ten feet away, was a raised dais, and on top of that was a floating arch with a thin curtain falling to the floor.

The intruders had brought him to the Veil of Death.

"Evanesco.He suddenly felt a breeze on his skin and heard a series of clinking on the ground, and from behind him appeared the blue-masked thief. A witch, judging by her voice, though the distortion made him the slightest bit unsure. "There, that's better. I have to admit, I knew you kept iron on you at all times, but I was not expecting you to have quite this much."

She giggled then, and he cursed silently. This was bad. In all of his robes he had sewn forty or fifty iron slivers, and in his pockets he kept small balls of the same metal. Iron was the only thing that could keep one safe from the fae, and now, thanks to these fools, he was defenseless!

"Accio bits of iron.As if he weren't vulnerable enough, the last intruder summoned the scraps across the room before making her way to them. "There, that should do it. Time for the next act, love?"

"I do believe it is."

With a snarl, Voldemort demanded, "Who are you?!"

The trio shared a long glance before the red one shrugged. The witches removed their masks first, revealing themselves to be substantially younger than he had expected. The blue intruder was blonde with protruding silver eyes, and the one with the yellow mask was a rather plain-looking brunette. Then the leader of their little group removed his disguise, and Voldemort's vision grew as red as the mask in the boy's hand. "No. This isn't possible. It can't be!"

"I wouldn't say it'impossible,Potter replied with a sharp grin. "Just very, very unlikely.The Boy-Who-Just-Wouldn't-Bloody-Die laughed a third time, his voice unaltered now. "It just struck me: your organization is dismantled, your followers are either dead or in the DMLE's custody, and you're disarmed and helpless, all of which is the work of three kids who haven't even finished taking their OWLs. Are you sure you're really Dark Lord material?"

No. This could not be true. It had to be a trick of some sort. A glamour, or Polyjuice Potion, or something!

Potter clapped his hands together. "So, let's get this party started, shall we? I'm sure by now you're just dying to know why we kidnapped you and brought you here. You do know where we are, right?"

"The Department of Mysteries. The Death Room."

"Close enough; you're wrong on one part, but since your informant didn't know what he was talking about either, I can't exactly blame you for that. Do you know why we brought you here?the boy continued cheerfully.

Staring at the Veil, there was only one answer that made any sense. "You're going to kill me."

"Kill you?The teenagers looked at each other and laughed merrily. After a few moments, Potter calmed down enough to continue, "Oh, not at all, Tommy boy.Voldemort bared his teeth at his filthy Muggle name being spoken. "You see, death is too easy, too gentle. I needed something worse for you."

"Worse?he scoffed. "There is nothing worse than death."

Potter shook his head, that blasted grin still on his face. "For all your knowledge and power, you're still just a foolish child who's scared of the dark, aren't you?At his snarl, the brat continued, "Having those you love die in your arms – though you, of course, wouldn't know about that – is a fate worse than death. Watching your world tear itself apart at the behest of a madman and knowing there is nothing you can do to stop it is a fate worse than death. Having your mind twisted until what's left is no longer you is a fate worse than death."

In front of him, the Veil stirred, and Potter smiled. "And being given to your worst enemies to be tortured until they grow bored of you? I'd say that's a fate worse than death, too."

"Who are you?Voldemort repeated in confusion. This did not sound like the bleating of the child who had run from him a year ago. "Who are you really?"

"I'm Harry Potter,the boy replied with a wide grin. "But, and this is the important part, I'm not the Harry Potter native to this timestream. You see, I'm twenty-five years old; I fought against you in not only the Second War, but the Third as well. Some of your enemies offered me and my loves a chance to come back in time, and, well…" Potter shrugged. "Our world was more or less about to end, anyway, so we didn't exactly have much to lose, now did we?"

The Dark Lord blinked. Either Potter had completely lost it… or he was, hard as it was to believe, telling the truth. He was not exactly sure which option he wanted to be right.

"But we've spent enough time chatting,Potter said, jerking his thumb at the Veil. "I said before that you were only half-right about where we are. You see, the Veil isn't actually a portal to Death."

A breeze ruffled the ragged edges of the curtain, despite there being no wind in the room.

"It's a portal to the realm of Lilith, the Faery Queen."

With a tremendous howl, the Veil was whipped away from the floor, and in the space it had covered was a rippling view of a lush forest. In the middle stood a woman, her blue hair a strange counterpoint to her emerald dress, and she offered Voldemort a cold, cruel smile before turning to Potter. "Greetings, my champion. I must know; is that for me?"

"It is, your majesty,the supposed man in a boy's skin answered with a low bow. "I know that your command was to kill him, but I thought it would only be polite to offer you the chance to show him your displeasure in your own way. Considering the crimes he and his counterpart committed against you and yours…"

"Such a thoughtful gift you present to me,the Faery Queen purred, and Voldemort swallowed fearfully. "Yes, choosing you as my champion was a wise decision indeed. Your task is complete; your debt is paid. Go now and live your life with my blessing.

"Daughters mine?From beyond the borders of the rip in reality, a little girl with blue skin in a glittering bathing suit and a nude, golden young woman stepped into view. "It seems we will soon have a guest. Tell the kelpies to assemble at the stable; I feel like taking a ride today. And prepare my hounds."

The wind abruptly changed direction, rushing into the portal, and Voldemort was flung to the ground. After no more than a heartbeat, he felt himself being pulled toward the Veil. "No! This can't happen! Potter!he screamed, his terror obvious in his voice. "I'll give you whatever you want! Gold, power, your parents back from the dead! Anything! Just get me away from here!"

The boy buffed his fingernails against the leather of his clothing for a moment before answering. "I'm afraid I just can't do that. In case you forgot, your plans to steal the fae magic you envied for so long angered the Faery Queen."

"I can't even begin to explain just how bad a move that was,the blonde cut in.

The brunette nodded. "But you know what they say. You reap what you sow."

"True enough.Potter raised one hand, his green eyes glittering, and waggled his fingers in a mockery of a wave. "Bye-bye, Tom."

"Oh, where are you?" The mocking call jerked Voldemort back from his reverie with a fresh wave of panic. "Where are you hiding, my dear Tom Marvolo Riddle? Come back. We just want to play!"

Play with my intestines, more like. He shuddered and then winced as the motion disturbed the deep slice on his left shoulder blade that the golden girl had left the last time she nearly caught him. Since they could not bear even the mere presence of iron, the faeries had apparently gotten very, very good at working with bronze. Between the armed and mounted warriors and the giant slavering dogs, he felt like he was looking at a hunting scene from ancient times.

A scene where he was the quarry.

He moved to rub his brow and just barely stopped before again smacking himself in the face with the brown-furred hoof that had taken the place of his right hand, its counterparts on his other three limbs. If that were not bad enough, he had been dealing with an itch on his forehead for two days that, as he had discovered when looking at his reflection in a puddle, was due to a pair of antlers growing out of his skull.

"If I had known this would happen, I nevah woul' ah—" He stopped and crossed his eyes to stare at the lower half of his face, where his mouth and nasal slits were now protruding a good two inches farther than they had a minute ago. That… That was not good. He had to find a place to rest soon; he could not come up with a way to reverse this hellish transfiguration if he was being chased from one side of the forest to the other.

The baying of the hounds came from his left, and he cursed before resuming his run. He needed rest to think of a way out of this place, but escaping those dogs so they couldn't tear him into little pieces was even more important at the moment.

Ron shoveled a forkful of potatoes into his mouth and glared at the empty seats around him. Ever since February, he had not had a single person sit next to him; if beside him was the only empty spot, they would squeeze in between two other people, and if he sat down next to someone, that person would get up and move elsewhere. Those that would take the time to look at him only did so with glares and scowls. Not even his own brothers would speak to him if they could find a way to get out of it!

It was like he was considered an outcast by everyone in the school!

It's not my fault, he thought angrily. Someone hung me from the ceiling and called me a rapist, but I didn't do anything. And because they ambushed me in bed, I didn't get the chance to make Hermione fall in love with me before the love potion wore off. Professor Dumbledore won't even give me a second chance at it, either; he said I was a 'bad investment', whatever that means. Why is everyone treating me like I'm a slimy Snake or something?

He took another bite, but then it jostled on its way down. Suddenly he felt a sharp jab in his throat, and though the pain made him gasp, he could not get any air. Just a few seconds later his lungs started to burn; trying to cough and wheeze just made the pain worse. He turned to his side to get someone's attention, but every single person refused to look at him. Not even waving his hand right in front of their faces could make them notice that he was in trouble!

His vision blurred, and he tripped as he tried to stand, falling painfully to the stone floor in the middle of the Great Hall. The room was packed with students getting breakfast, but not a single person so much as glanced his way. Why were they ignoring him?! Why weren't they helping him?!

His sight faded to black.

"Oh my!" Professor Flitwick squeaked several minutes later as his eyes suddenly found the redhead laying motionless on the ground. It was at that moment that everyone else noticed him, too, and several girls screamed as they scrambled away from the blue-faced boy. "Everyone, calm down!" the diminutive teacher yelled, rushing from his chair to Ron's side. "Waddiwasi!"

With the sound of plunger being pulled out of a toilet, something yellow and black flew up out of Ron's throat and onto his unmoving chest. "Egg?" muttered the quarter-goblin as he stared at the bit of food. "And it's already rotten?" Shaking himself from his thoughts, he levitated Ron's disturbingly still body and ran out of the room, presumably to get the boy to Pomfrey for all the good it would do.

Leaning against one of the tall doors and under a second Notice-Me-Not charm, Luna bared her teeth in a grim parody of a smile. "Justice is good, and proportionate justice is even better." She moved one arm in front of her abdomen, as if to protect her womb. "But it's poetic justice that is the best kind."

Draco's hands shook as he looked again at the letter in front of him. The Daily Prophet had gone on and on all week about notable Purebloods being arrested for bribery and corruption, and then charges of murder, terrorism, and treason being added because they were Death Eaters. The first of the trials was slated to start the following week, but there was already talk about them being sentenced to life in Azkaban.

Other people's fates were not what concerned him, however. What he cared about was that, while many Purebloods he knew socially had been arrested, his parents were not mentioned even once. That would ordinarily be a good thing, but when he owled them for information on what was going on, they had not replied. Three more letters he had sent, but still nothing. Then today, he got the news he had been dreading.

Dear Mr. Draco Malfoy,

It is my unfortunate duty to inform you that both of your parents, Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, were found murdered in your family home yesterday morning. As of this point i time, the Department of Magical Law Enforcement does not have any solid leads as to the perpetrator of this ghastly crime, but they maintain that their investigation is still ongoing.

As you are still a minor, and your listed godfather, Severus Snape, is also deceased, you have hereby been named a ward of the Ministry until such time as you reach your majority. A member of the WCS will be waiting for you upon your arrival at Platform 9¾ to escort you to our office so that we can discuss your future housing options as well as the execution of your parentswills.

With much sympathy,

Martin Scheie

Head of Wizarding Child Services

He crumpled the slip of parchment in his fist. His parents gone, murdered, and the DMLE was wasting their time prosecuting Purebloods for getting rid of a few Mudbloods?! How was this fair?! How was it right?! They should be out looking for the scum who would dare kill a proper Pureblood couple! Were their priorities really so screwed up?!

Voices from down the hall caught his attention, and his scowl morphed into something even darker. Potter and his slags. All year he had been looking for a chance to deal with the scarhead; first Potter killed Severus, then he spent time waiting outside the Slytherin common room to curse him. He would not be surprised to find that Potter had a hand in his parents' deaths, too, at this rate! Unfortunately, the perfect Gryffindor Golden Boy being Dumbledore's pet meant no one would dare punish him.

Well, Draco would. He would make Potter pay for what he had done!

Hearing the halfblood coming closer, he let his hate fill him. Severus had taught him just the spell for this situation; his godfather had said it was only for his enemies, and if anyone was an enemy right now, it was Potter.

He took a deep breath and jumped out of the alcove. "Sectumsem"

"Diffindo!" The arc of light shot through the air before he could finish the incantation, and he watched in horror as his hand and most of his forearm drooped before falling to the floor, blood gushing out of the remaining stump. He opened his mouth to scream, but then Granger whispered something and he collapsed bonelessly.

"Really?" Potter muttered, not even seeming to care that his spell had caused Draco to lose a hand. This was not how Dumbledore's pet Gryffindor was supposed to act! "With both your parents dead, I thought you'd slink into the woodwork and leave us alone, but no, you just had to brass me off. Using Sectumsempra on us?" The Lion shook his head before squatting to put his head closer to Draco's and meeting his grey eyes. "Let me guess, Snape taught that to you? When?"

Though he could not feel his mouth – or any other part of his body, really – he heard his own voice answer, "Summer before last." How had that happened, he wondered in a panic. Did Potter have some way to make him answer questions despite him not wanting to?

"Yes, I do, in fact. It's called compulsion charms." The scarred boy grinned nastily as Draco paled. "As for how I know what you're thinking right now, that is called Legilimency. Mind magic is a useful thing, isn't it?"

"What are we going to do with him?" the crazy Lovegood girl asked, looking down at him as if he were nothing more than an interesting bug.

"I suppose we could just kill him." His eyes widened in fear, and Potter continued, "But then we'd have to get rid of the body, and since you murdered Ron just this morning, I'm hesitant to leave yet another corpse laying around."

Granger glared at him. "He's a genocidal sociopath, has wished me and those like me dead since he was a child, and if we leave him alive, even with erasing his memory of this encounter, he's just going to become a problem again. Killing him now would be doing the world a favor."

"True, but I think I could come up with a better use for him, nonetheless. How about we let him answer an age-old question for us?"

"Oh?" Lovegood prompted.

"Mm-hmm." Potter smiled, and if Draco could, he would already be running away from that cruel expression. "You see, this is the perfect opportunity to test the effects of nature versus nurture. After all, we know exactly what he turned out to be like after being raised by his parents; now we have the chance to find out what kind of person he would be without them."

"I think I see where you're going," Granger allowed tentatively, "but wouldn't a true test of nature versus nurture also require de-aging him so that he could actually be raised by someone else?"

"That would work better. Do you have any Shrinking Solution at the house?" When the brunette Mudblood shook her head, Potter sighed. "Then I guess we're stuck with my original plan. Go ahead and get behind him; we don't want to leave any clues for Dumbledore if he decides to check Malfoy's memories."

Though shocked at the scathing tone Potter was using towards his supposed mentor, Draco knew he had to get away from the scarhead before he did something else to him. He flung his numbed arms ahead of him, idly noting that his severed hand had somehow been reattached without him noticing, and tried to pull himself forward when his hated enemy spoke again. "Oh, don't be like that, Malfoy. It will all be fine. I learned this spell from Lockhart, after all."

You learned this from who?!

"Finite incantatem. Obliviate."

He blinked, staring at the stone floor he was laying on. Why was he laying on the floor? Pushing himself up, he glanced around. Worn tapestries, grey stone as far as the eye could see, a chill draft drifting in from ahead of him; was he in a castle? Why would he be in a castle? Where was he?

…And for that matter, who was he?

Ginny primped her hair for a moment as she stood outside an otherwise random door in the castle; Harry's note said he wanted to talk with her inside, and there was only one reason for him wanting a private meeting. He had finally figured out that they were meant to be together! Perhaps he was even willing to get rid of Hermione and Luna now, too, but if not, that would not be a deal-breaker. She was sure she could convince him to drop them sooner or later.

Her adjustments made, she opened the door and stepped inside. Like she had halfway expected, there were the girls who had tried to steal her Harry on a couch, but between them sat her knight in shining armor. He shot her a small smile that made her knees weak and indicated the lone chair in front of the trio. "Have a seat, Ginny. We have a few matters we wanted to discuss with you."

"Okay," she said in a fluster; as soon as she noted her breathy voice, she gave herself a mental slap. She had finally gotten the attention of the boy of her dreams by acting confident and self-assured, and she was not going to risk scaring him off for another couple of years by acting like a ditzy slag. Settling herself in the chair, she asked, "What did you want to talk about?"

"Well, we've been talking it over, and we decided to give you an opportunity." Harry waved his hand at the girls beside him. "As you can tell, I'm not entirely adverse to the idea of unusual relationships, and I couldn't help but notice that you still have an enormous crush on me. Did you perhaps want to join our little circle?"

"You want me to be your girlfriend, just as much as Hermione and Luna?" she clarified. She had to make sure she understood what was going on; Ginevra Weasley would not play second string to any girl in the quest for Harry's heart.

The boy shot her another grin. "Wasn't that what I said?" Standing from the couch, he stepped towards her, but before she could jump up and embrace him he had already circled around behind her. "However, before we get to the fun stuff, there were a few questions we would really appreciate the answers to. You don't mind telling us that, do you?"

"I guess not," she replied in a nonchalant tone. Anything that got her in a better position to snag her Harry, she was willing to do.

"Good," Hermione said. Smiling sweetly, she continued, "Did you give Harry, along with the other boys in his dorm, chocolates on Valentine's Day?"

She nodded. "Well, yeah."

"And did you know that Harry's were spiked with love potion?"

"Yes." As that traitorous admission passed her lips, her eyes grew wide. Why had she admitted that?! She tried to stand, reach her wand, anything, but she found that she could not move any part of her body below her neck.

"Who brewed the potion? And what was the overall plan?" Luna asked then, giving her a stern look.

Though she tried to keep her mouth shut this time, she found herself saying, "Mum made it. She told me it would finally get Harry to notice me, like he should have already. The other candies were so no one would get suspicious."

"What would you have done once I was drugged up and unable to escape your clutches?" Harry asked. He was still behind her, and the paralysis meant she could not turn around and look at his expression, but the tone in which he spoke was angry enough that she did not need to.

"Once you were mine, I'd make you get rid of Hermione and Luna so we could be together without anyone interfering." Tears streaming from her eyes, she added, "I love you, Harry, and I know you love me. I won't let anyone come between us."

Luna shook her head in disappointment. "Oh, Ginny, you little fool. I'm starting to wonder if you even know what love really is. I think you can guess that we aren't exactly thrilled about what you've done, can't you?" At Ginny's hesitant nod, the blonde continued, "But good for you, we're rather forgiving. You just have to make it up to us."

"It's a simple thing, really," Hermione said as she picked up a small cup that had been sitting on a table beside her seat. She reached over and wrapped Ginny's slack fingers around the stem. "All you have to do is drink this, and all will be forgiven. We'll never mention what you tried to do to anyone. It's a promise."

Feeling her control of that arm returning, Ginny looked at the cup fearfully. A rather plain item for all that it was made of gold, only a pair of badger heads decorating the sides, something about it, or perhaps the pink liquid it held, made her want to fling the goblet down and run out the door. "What… What is it?"

"Oh, just a little potion. It won't harm you; you could even consider it a prank of sorts," Luna responded with a cold grin. "Drink up, Ginny. Or don't you want us to forgive you?"

I can deal with a prank. Fred and George play pranks on people all the time. Her hand shaking, she lifted the cup to her lips and drank. The taste was strange, apples and honey and salt all at once, and it only took two gulps to empty the whole thing.

"You know, you should be more excited," Harry said, walking around the chair and plucking the goblet from her fingers. "You're probably the first person in a thousand years to drink from Hufflepuff's enchanted chalice. Extraordinary thing, really; from our research, it seems Helga had it made so that it would enhance any potion placed within it. The longer it was there, the stronger it would get, until eventually some potions could even become permanent."

Ginny's eyes bugged out at his comments and the fire she now felt roiling in her belly. "What did you do to me?!"

"Rather than answer that, let me tell you a quick story," Hermione said with a self-satisfied expression. "Long ago, there was a nymph named Echo, who was a favored servant of Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt. Echo loved to talk to anyone and everyone, and often Zeus would use her to distract his wife Hera so he could sneak down from Mt. Olympus and entertain himself with the women of Earth. Eventually Hera realized what was happening, and in her anger she cursed Echo so that the nymph could no longer speak any words of her own."

A light haze encroached over Ginny's sight, and the heat inside her began to spread. She could feel her body shake, and sweat started trickling down her face. Why were they doing this to her?! She just wanted Harry to recognize that he loved her!

"Morose at her loss, Echo wandered the lands, only able to repeat what others had said. One day on her travels, she encountered a young man who was very beautiful to behold. She longed to tell him how she felt, but unless he spoke to her first, she could only follow him in silence. Eventually the man heard the sound of her footsteps, and he called out, 'Who's there?' Echo repeated his words, and again he tried, 'Why do you run from me?', but again she could only repeat what he had said. One more time he spoke, 'Let us meet here together.' Overjoyed at his invitation, Echo leapt from the woods to embrace him, but as soon as he saw whom he had been talking to, the young man rejected her. Never would she have him or his love, he said before running away.

"The heartbroken nymph was again alone, and as she grieved she withered away, until eventually all that was left was her voice."

Is she planning to talk me to death? She jerked her head, trying to force her body to move, when the shift caused her to glance to the right. Her mouth dropped open as she spotted an absolute angel looking back at her.

"Artemis was furious at the callousness with which the young man had treated the nymph, and so she cursed him that he might know the same pain he had so casually inflicted."

Red hair like flame spilling down her shoulders, soft brown eyes, lots of cute little freckles sprinkled over her cheeks. Ginny licked her lips as she looked the girl up and down; she never thought she would be attracted to other witches, but for this darling, she would gladly make an exception. Not even Harry was as tantalizing and inviting as this vision of beauty.

And to make things even better, the other girl seemed just as interested in her!

"The young man soon came upon a still pool, and as he bent down to take a drink, he gazed upon a handsome man. He reached out to his newfound love, but no matter how he tried, he could not manage to touch him."

She tried to move again, to go to the girl she had fallen so hard and so suddenly for, and this time her body responded. Standing from the chair, she wandered over and offered the other witch a sultry smile, which she was happy to see returned. Her hand stretched out, almost as if it had a mind of its own, and pressed gently against the glass separating her from her love.

"His mind cleared then, and he realized that he had fallen deeply, irrevocably in love with his own reflection in the water. With a cry of anguish, the young man pulled out his knife and stabbed himself in the heart, and he bled out as he looked at himself. Where his blood touched the shore, flowers sprang up, flowers that even today share that young man's name. Narcissus."

Ignoring Hermione's babbling, Ginny shot her beloved a heated look and started toying with the buttons of her shirt as she swayed back and forth. The other girl was enraptured with her dance and immediately began to mimic her.

"I think we'll give you some alone time now," Harry said as he, along with Hermione and Luna, walked to the door. Ginny just waved back absently before she continued her little striptease in front of the mirror.

A splash of water woke Dolores from her sleep, and she spluttered and shivered in her thin nightgown. A quick glance around showed her that she had been kidnapped from her soft bed and dragged to the edge of a forest just outside of a little hamlet. "Wh-What is the meaning of this?" she demanded. "I am—"

"An enormously irritating, overgrown toad," a metallic voice interrupted. She whipped her head around to find three black-clad figures; only the colors of their vulpine masks let her tell the difference between them. "I am truly regretting removing the spells I put on you this past year. I'm sure people would have thanked me for making you croak or leaving you incapable of hearing what people were saying around you."

"You," she snarled. "You were the one responsible for that? I'll have your head!"

Those spells had been the bane of her existence, and inexplicably they had vanished the very day the students left to ride the Hogwarts express home three weeks ago. Try as she might, Dumbledore had refused to let her hold the little brats back so she could determine who it was who had done it, and with the new Minister being no friend of hers and even firing her, she had no weight to bring to bear against the old goat. She had suspected that he had a hand in it, and now with these criminals standing here in front of her, she was more sure of it than ever.

"No, I don't think you will," replied the person with the yellow mask. "If anyone is going to have someone's head, I think we will soon have yours."

Dolores balked at that, and the blue-masked individual pointed to something behind her. "Ah, and here come the Aurors. Right on time."

"Is Dawlish one of them?"

"I don't know," the speaker said to the wizard in the red mask. "They're too far away."

"If you're going to attack me, do it now," the squat witch taunted. "Once the Aurors spot you, they'll throw you in Azkaban where you belong!"

"Nope, wrong again." The wizard laughed. "In fact, they aren't even here for us. They're here for you."

"Because you kidnapped—"

"They don't care about a Ministry has-been going missing. Maybe if you had kept your job as the Minister's Senior Undersecretary, it would be different, but once Fudge went, you think anyone cared about you? Merlin, they were probably glad to be rid of you once and for all." The red-masked villain shook his head. "No, why they're here is actually rather funny. Have you looked at the sky tonight?"

Dolores glanced up and scowled at the full moon beaming down upon them.

"You see, someone sent the DMLE an anonymous tip that there was a werewolf running around town tonight, and it only took them a few minutes to get a couple of people out here. Oh, don't you worry your little head off," he jeered as she shivered in fear. "There isn't really a werewolf, but I would feel really bad if they spent their time walking around in the middle of the night with nothing to show for it. They want a werewolf, so we're going to be helpful citizens and give them one, and even better, you get to help. Won't that be fun?"

"What are you talk—" Her complaints were cut off when the blue-masked figure blasted her with a spell, and she shrieked as her flesh writhed underneath her skin, After only a few seconds, that human scream morphed into the call of an enormous wolf, and she stumbled as she tried to regain her balance now that her body had been changed into this ungainly form. The kidnappers snickered a moment before fading from sight, and just as she reared back to attack them with the sharp claws they had so generously provided her, a red mist colored her vision. She howled her wrath and her hate for all the world to hear, but then her ears picked up the cracks and thumps of rapidly approaching footsteps. Whirling around, she snarled before charging, planning to tear the red-robed wizards apart in an attempt to sooth her sudden surge of rage.

"There! Diffindo!"

Dolores had only a moment to curse the two men in her mind before her head slid off her shoulders and tumbled to the ground.

Knock, knock.

"Just a minute!" Molly called, then she turned back and placed the bowl of soup on the bedside table. "Let me take care of this, and I'll be right back."

"Mum, please let me go," her baby girl begged, tugging uselessly against the leather strips tying her to the bed. "Why are you doing this to me? I love her! Why won't you let me see her? She needs me."

Tears pricked at her eyes as she patted Ginny's head. Minerva had Floo-called her that morning dreadful morning a month ago, saying that she had terrible news, and it was only shortly after she arrived at the hospital wing to pick up Ronnie's… Ronnie's body that Professor Sprout barged into the hospital wing. She had nearly let the dumpy witch have it before Sprout had dragged her to the room where her darling daughter was holed up, completely naked and rubbing up against a floor-length mirror like a cat in heat.

What am I going to do?, she wondered sadly as she tromped down the stairs. Two of her babies taken from her in a single day: Ron murdered at breakfast without a single witness, because there was just no way he could have really choked on some food, and her daughter obsessed with her own reflection. She knew she could not watch over Ginny in Grimmauld Place, so she had therefore moved her family back to the Burrow where Ginny could at least be around familiar sights. Her thinking had been that she would not be alone in these trying circumstances, but her hopes were for naught. Fred and George had vanished not a day after returning from Hogwarts, and with Arthur and Bill working all day and Percy still not talking to them, it had been left to her to care for her youngest child. I've tried everything I can think of, but nothing – no spell, no potion, no amount of talking – has gotten through to her. I don't want to take her to St. Mungo's; we don't have the money, and they probably can't help her anyway. Besides, Professor Dumbledore said he would look for a cure, and I'm sure it won't be too much longer before he finds something.

Knock, knock.

"Yes, yes, just a minute!" Reaching the door, she yanked it open. "What?!"

"Molly Weasley?" the first wizard asked. She nodded and then noticed that they both wore navy robes, the DMLE crest emblazoned on the left side of their chests. "I'm Investigator Whitaker from the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol, and this is Investigator Adams." The other wizard nodded sharply. "May we come in?"

"I'm not letting anyone in until I know what you're doing here."

Whitaker nodded. "Very well. We recently received a tip that you brewed a love potion and attempted to use it to enslave the will and mind of one Neville Longbottom." Her eyes widened; wasn't that the name of one of Ron's housemates? Why would anyone think she would use potions on some boy she had never met? The MLEP wizard's gaze sharpened at her expression, and he continued, "Now, we take claims of line theft very seriously—"

"Line theft?! I would never do such a thing!" She had planned to slip Harry a love potion to make him interested in Ginny, of course, but that wasn't line theft! Everyone knew that boys his age needed a little push to get them to notice girls. Why, Arthur was completely oblivious to me until I used a little potion, and look how happy he is now. But surely that's not a crime!

Adams narrowed his eyes and pulled a small, round stone out of his pocket. "So for the record, you have never administered a love potion to any Pureblood individual with the intent of forcing them into a relationship with someone?"

"Most certainly I haven't!" The stone glowed a baleful red at her words, and she did not even have time to slam the door before the wizards cast their spells. She fell heavily to the floor, her legs stuck together and her wand ripped out of her pocket to land in Adams's hand. "No! You can't do this to me! I've done nothing wrong!"

"Silencio. Between your words and a Lie-Detection Charm, I'll trust the charm," Whitaker snorted. "Adams, bag any potion ingredients you find, then we'll take Mrs. Weasley here back to London. Our boss will want to speak to you; maybe you'll even get really lucky and Madam Bones will want a piece of the action. She hates people who trap others with love potions."

No. Why are they doing this?, Molly thought as she watched the MLEP officer summon all of her ingredients into a sack. The two wizards then levitated her from the floor and led her towards the edges of the Burrow's wards. I haven't done anything wrong. It was just a harmless love potion. It's not a big deal!

His breath coming in short pants, Albus looked back down the road he had just walked. He could swear that the road had actually lengthened as he traveled, so that what would otherwise have been maybe a hundred feet had become a hike of nearly two miles. His suspicious were confirmed when his gaze found the hole he had cut in the hedges hiding the property just a short distance away.

Not a bad way to deter casual visitors, Tom, I'll grant you that, he admitted as he approached the ramshackle shack. But I am here for a reason, and such a simple trick won't dissuade me. I hope you have something better in store.

Reaching out to grab hold of the doorknob of the only door, he hesitated a moment and reached out with his magical sense, honed by decades of practice and being surrounded at all times by highly magical items. Sure enough, there was a compulsion charm laid upon the door, one that would probably cause a would-be intruder to kill himself or something equally nasty. A subtle defense, but one that relied on its victim to be either oblivious or horrendously unskilled. "Tom, Tom, Tom. This was the first Horcrux you truly tried to hide, isn't it? Your inexperience shows." A swirl of his wand then vanished the door.

The inside of the Gaunt's house was just as decrepit as the outside, and he transfigured all the waiting vipers into leaves. So far, nothing truly surprising. For better or worse, you were one of the most brilliant students I ever had the fortune of teaching; I expected more out of you. The Leader of the Light peered about the single room, seeking any spot that stuck out to his senses. The walls were suffused with magic, which was only to be expected, and the next densest concentration of magic was one particular spot on the floor. "You truly did make this too easy. Reducto."

The wooden floor shattered, revealing a shallow hole, and inside it a simple stone box. Levitating it out of its hiding spot, he swiftly vanished the lid and beheld the second of Tom's Horcruces. It was a gaudy gold ring, just as Bob Ogden's memory had indicated, and set in the middle was a black stone…

Albus's eyes widened as he looked closer. The stone was scuffed, the scratches forming a vertical line inside a circle inside a triangle. The sign of the Deathly Hallows. "It can't be. Is this… Is this truly the Resurrection Stone?" His hand shook as he reached out and plucked the ring from the box; taking a deep breath, he slid it onto the fourth finger of his right hand.

"Just three turns to see Arian— Aaaagh!" It had been a trap! He collapsed to the ground, his hand on fire even as he watched pitch black lines following the veins of his hand and arms. He likely had only minutes to get help, a bezoar or one of Horace's broad-spectrum antidotes or something.

"Finite incantatem." The walls of the shack rippled and twisted for a moment before disappearing entirely, and he stared in disbelief as the house he thought he had entered turned out to be nothing more than a flat stretch of ground and a free-standing doorframe. It was all a setup.

Slow, mocking clapping dragged his attention to his audience, and he gasped at who it was. "No. Harry?" The boy was supposed to be at Grimmauld Place with Sirius and the rest of the Order; Dumbledore had planned to speak with him the next day about the letter he sent Minerva regarding his withdrawal from Hogwarts. What was Harry doing here?

"Yep." The young man smiled down at his elder, similar expressions worn by the two girls standing at his sides. "I have to say, I didn't expect that you'd fall for our trap quite that easily. I was prepared to have to fight you in an epic duel with grand speeches and posturing—"

"And that ultimately ended up with Luna or me cursing him in the back while his attention was focused on you?"

Harry blushed at Hermione's dry tone. "Something like that, yeah."

"Looks like Dumbledore isn't the only prideful one around here," the Lovegood girl observed. "And speaking of pride, Accio Elder Wand."

Before he could tighten his grip on the first Hallow to come into his possession, the blonde's spell had it soaring out of his hand to smack loudly in her palm, and he shuddered in sudden fear. For fifty years he had possessed the most powerful wand ever created, but now he had been disarmed, and he could almost feel his mastery over it slip away. Even more troubling was that she realized what it was; he had thought the identity of his wand had been safe with him. "How long have you known?" he asked desperately.

"That you were the master of the Elder Wand, or that you were also after the Deathly Hallows?" the girl – Luna, he recalled – asked. "Though I suppose it doesn't really matter, considering the answer is the same. A while."

Several clues clicked into place. "Your father. He's a Quester, too."

"That he is, and he'll be so happy to hear that one family now possesses all of them."

"What?" He glanced over the three in confusion. Harry, of course, pointed to the Cloak of Invisibility draped carelessly over his shoulder, but the real surprise was when Hermione fished a golden locket out from under her blouse and opened it to reveal a round, black stone. His eyes drifted down to the ring on his finger. "But this…"

"A very convincing fake. I spent all yesterday making it look exactly right," Harry boasted.

A sharp jab of pain in his shoulder reminded Albus that he was racing against the clock, and he gave a mental call to Fawkes. The phoenix appeared in a flash of flame above him, but rather than swoop down to grab him, the firebird looked about in confusion. Chuckling slightly, Harry tossed over a ripe plum. Fawkes caught the fruit with a joyful trill and vanished once again.

Fawkes? Have you, too, abandoned me?

Harry turned to a smirking Luna. "All right, I'll say it. I was wrong, and you were right. I never should have doubted that your phoenix-specific Confundus Charm would work exactly as advertised."

"At least you're admitting the awesomeness of my plan," she said with a grin. Her smile faded after a moment, and she added, "Then again, Fawkes seemed a little too lucid at the end there. He might have just decided that it was time for him to move on and look for another wizard to follow. There's no way to tell, and it's not like we'll be able to find him again once Dumbledore kicks the bucket."

"I'd give him thirty more seconds, forty-five at most," Hermione announced.

"Harry, listen to me," Albus panted, the curse on the ring making his lungs feel like they were dissolving in his chest. For all he knew, that was exactly what was happening. "Voldemort left pieces of—"

"Pieces of his soul scattered about Britain, six of them in total, blah blah blah," the boy cut in. "Yeah, we already know. The Horcruces are all destroyed, the Death Eaters who weren't arrested are dead, and we personally chucked old Tommy-boy through the Veil. The war's over."

Albus gasped in disbelief. How does he know all this? Then he realized what the second half of Harry's statement was. "You what? No, Harry, you were supposed to redeem Voldemort, not kill him. Our world needs a strong"—a coughing fit interrupted him, and when he pulled his hand back, it was covered in blood and what looked like tar—"a strong leader once I'm gone. And there's one more Horcrux. Your scar. You are a Horcrux, too, my boy."

"Oh, Dumbledore, you old idiot," Harry replied with a mocking laugh. "When I said all the Horcruces, I meant it. My scar's been taken care of for over a year now. As for redeeming Voldemort of all people, I only give second chances to those who deserve them. He most certainly is not one of them."

"Then you truly have gone Dark," he whispered sadly. If Harry could no longer find forgiveness in his heart and Voldemort was no longer around to put him down, the world was lost. "May I make one last request?"


He gaped at the audacity of the boy in front of him even as the vise-grip around his chest tightened. "You would not even… do something for me… in my last moments?"

Harry laughed darkly, his grin more of a vicious snarl. "You set my parents up to be murdered. You knowing left me with abusive relatives. You used me as bait to lure Voldemort to Hogwarts, not once but twice. You dosed Hermione with a love potion in an attempt to regain control of me. And you just tried to make me kill myself because I rejected your stupid, stupid plan." The boy took a few steps closer and growled, "I wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire."

"Please," he gasped, his heart thudding painfully in his chest. "At least take… my remains… back to… the castle."

A shake of Harry's head was all his plea earned. "Nope, can't do that. I'm not going to make you a martyr. You'll simply disappear, and from there, you'll fade from memory. No grand funeral, no shining white tomb. Just a pitiful death in a forest and your body vanished to who knows where."

Ba-dump. Ba-dump. Ba-… As darkness encroached on his sight, he had time for one last question. "Why?"

"Because no one mourns the wicked."

Voldemort's scene was inspired by the myth of Actaeon, who stumbled upon Artemis while she was bathing and so was changed into a deer before being hunted down. Ginny's scene was inspired by… well, the myth of Echo and Narcissus. Shocker, that.

In case it was unclear, the circumstances of Ron's murder is due to the flashback in chapter 4, where his betrayal of the Order of the Phoenix cause Luna to be hit with an Organ-Rotting Curse.

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