Partially Kissed Hero

Summer before third year Harry has a life changing experience, and a close encounter with a dementor ends with him absorbing the horcrux within him. Features Harry with a backbone.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/4240771/1/Partially-Kissed-Hero

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97. Chapter Ninety-Seven

I I I

"Ah! Severus! How are you, my old friend?" Albus embraced his favorite assistant and kissed the man on both cheeks. "Did Aberforth find you alright?" he asked, unnecessarily.

"Yes, Albus," Snape touched both his own cheeks, wondering over the change in his old master. The jovial, Santa Claus air was usually reserved for when he was putting on performances before the plebs.

Ah, yes! The former Ministry workers all about. That explained it.

Of course, no way was Snape going to admit that he'd been devoured by one of Hagrid's newly acquired pets long enough ago now that when Aberforth found him he'd been an integral component of a pile of hippogriff droppings. So defaulted to 'yes, I'm fine'.

He'd never hear the end of it if someone like Potter were to overhear that Snape was, totally and legitimately, a walking piece of shit.

However, nothing he did could alter the fact that the magic that restored him to life did not, could not, change the historical fact that at one point he had entered an animal's digestive tract and emerged from the other side, through a natural process no one wanted too accurately described.

That left only one definition for what he was.

If James Potter were still alive he would laugh himself to death over this.

Snape realized he would NEVER live it down if this shame was even hinted at to certain parties, so was determined that this little fact should be kept secret (insofar as possible) even from Albus Dumbledore.

Since no outward trace of the experience he'd been through existed on his newly restored body, which looked pretty much as it always did, Snape felt certain he could conceal this minor yet annoying fact just fine.

But Dumbledore was already rambling on with introductions. "Ah, Severus, have you met Gellert? You know each other by reputation, I am sure."

Severus Snape shook the Dark Lord Grindelwald by the hand in a firm grip and with steady eyes. His legilimency probe was batted away by an expert, earning a token amount of respect beyond the mere reputation. He mustered a greeting in dry tones without sounding too sarcastic, "Charmed."

"Likewise," Gellert responded even more dryly.

"Tell me, how is it..." Snape looked at Dumbledore, at a loss for how to ask, since his usual blunt rudeness would probably not be appreciated, and the sycophantic fawning that was his only alternative would be out of place here.

"I don't hate the man?" Grindelwald responded just as bluntly, then cackled. "How could I? I'd already lost the war. The Americans had seen to that. I'd thought I could keep them out of it. Then those stupid Japanese had to go bomb Pearl Harbor before we were ready for it. No, Albus waited until my defeat was certain, then got me a nice cozy cell in a prison I'd built myself."

Snape took only a moment to figure that out. "A cell... you'd devised for yourself?" he asked, raising one eyebrow.

Gellert cackled. "Clever lad. Don't ever forget to leave yourself a way out of whatever you get into, boy."

Snape unconsciously rubbed the dark mark on his arm, thinking 'too late' and mustered a dry, "Yes. I'll keep that in mind."

Grindelwald prevented himself from snorting at the young man's small mind, no doubt imagining some cell that had secret luxuries. Fool. Such things would have been discovered, and were inadequate in any case. No, the cell was designed to prevent the simulacrum he had rotting in it from being detected as anything but the real man, while Gellert had actually been dwelling in a palace that Nuremgard was designed to both protect and conceal. Even the prison guards didn't know.

You can't imprison a scholar when he has books. He could afford to spend a lifetime or two under house arrest. With the research he'd been performing, and all of the stolen magical artifacts 'lost' by the Nazis in there, he hadn't even noticed the time passing in that warren of treasure caves.

The only thing he'd been aware of was his increasing power as his study and use of those artifacts progressed.

In truth, he'd been somewhat reluctant to leave. He'd been thinking that after another fifty years that no one would even so much as recall his name in any useful fashion, and with the spell research and practice he'd been putting in to training himself down there, he would've been unbeatable.

Still, Albus admitting that he'd both discovered and identified the cloak that belonged to the ferryman, and was part of the set that enabled Charon to command the boat to cross the river Styx, had been quite a lure. One didn't often get a chance to grab such an artifact. Dozens of lifetimes might go by before it surfaced again. So he'd really been unable to resist the temptation, when Albus popped by to tell him of it, to join his lifelong friend in the hunt.

And if, as Albus said, the world was ripe for the plucking, then he could move his own plans to retake it up by about fifty years or so. And he wouldn't be caught off guard so easily this time!

No, Gellert had a house elf with a book budget go out regularly to the stores, and every time someone published a historical work dealing with his defeat, he'd read their commentaries and considered it.

Having experts pick apart exactly why, how and when he'd failed had opened his mind to all sorts of things he'd missed when actually doing them. Better than Albus reviewing his life in a pensieve, in a way. As this way he got a truly unique perspective. And, reviewing the events they referenced in a pensieve he could even tell when those commentators made errors in their assumptions.

No, he had learned a great deal about how to do better next time.

Nor was that the only life or military or magical campaign of conquest he'd studied. Heck, that Voldemort chap had even had an interesting idea or two, even though he'd made plenty more mistakes than Gellert had. Chap hadn't even really finished taking his own country. Still, he'd had some useful ideas, that, with a bit of refining, ought to prove most interesting.

"Have you identified the lamentation effect, Gellert?" Albus asked his oldest friend fondly.

Snape brought himself out of his own ruminations when he realized that the Dark Lord Grindelwald was speaking. "I am fairly certain now the lamentation power is simply the detrimental effect this water has on virtually all magic to come in contact with it. Same thing happened with the boy who became a dementor - virtually no magic would work on him after that overloaded ritual ran so much of this energy right through him. I don't see any other power at work here we should worry about."

"Excellent, Gellert! Excellent!" Albus clapped his hands in glee.

"We should begin dipping your followers and mine at once," Gellert concluded, motioning forward one of the aged Nazi wizards about that had followed him once before, whose escape he had sheltered, and whom he'd called out of retirement for this effort.

The old crowd of Nazis were really too infirm to be much use themselves. But the children he'd ordered them to have, and their grandchildren, had swelled his ranks beyond even pre-WWII levels.

And, if Albus could spare some of that ambrosia he was flinging about in these experiments, even the old crowd could be restored to youthful vitality. Stuff didn't add a minute to your lifespan, but it could, did, and was meant to extend both the appearance and energy of youth up until the moment you croaked of old age. And it was good at curing old injuries, too.

That could easily put an old warrior back into fighting trim, and Gellert had more than a few old comrades answer his call for assistance on this matter.

I I I

Voldemort sat on his makeshift throne and seethed.

Magical Britain was dying under him.

At first it had seemed so easy! He'd been handed control of an army three times the size of any he'd ever dreamed of possessing! Everything had fallen into place from the start! The Ministry and the public had been there for the plucking, just as he'd always known they would. The weak-willed sheep of the magical world had not even managed a token resistance.

At first he'd felt he'd owned everything!

But no, even that was imperfect. Because it was discovered shortly after that something like a third of the magical world had gone missing.

Of the roughly thirty six thousand magicals they'd expected to find working as their new serfs in conquered Britain, Tom's minions had counted about twelve thousand missing, even accounting for rumors out of Hogwarts of nine thousand magicals taking sanctuary there. And that still did not explain where most shops from Diagon Alley had gone to! Those crowds at the wizarding school were what one expected of refugees, mostly penniless folks who'd grabbed what they could on their way out the door, clutching what few remaining worldly possessions they had to their bosoms, waiting to be fed.

Not an inspiring picture of the Last Bastion of Light.

Of course, still stinging from his most recent, and costly, 'victory' Riddle hadn't quite worked out yet that Hogwarts wasn't exactly the last bastion of anything. He knew something had been going on in Godric's Hollow, but wasn't entirely clear as to what. For all he knew it could be a single eccentric wizard with a passion for walls and a big ward allowance. He hadn't precisely gotten a good look yet, as even reading the memories of those few who'd survived the last assault were chaotic and filled with death. One thing he'd also failed to account for was none of the few surviving children, who'd been on top of the wall with a vantage to see inside, had been able to see for the darkness.

Some part of him feared that places like Flourish and Blott's and the safari and ice cream shops not long removed from Diagon Alley had found easy sanctuary in that town, where they were now doubtless destroyed by the fires that had consumed the place.

He had no way of knowing they were still doing a sprightly business. And his rage would have been terrible had he even suspected that. What with the closing of Gringotts, nobody was doing business in the rest of magical Britain. Another thing that would've driven him into apocalyptic fury was how glad those who'd moved to Harry's villages were for the vaults he'd supplied in the basements, as anybody who'd used them now had more cash on hand than some of the wealthiest Death Eaters.

Not like the Death Eaters weren't going to try and change that. But still, the question remained: how?

What fueled Voldemort's rage more than anything else was how helpless he felt to hold anything of worth together. Taking control had been easy enough. Managing it once he'd done that?

He was finding that impossible.

No shops, no shopkeepers, and no gold had all been devastating enough. Now it was no longer just healing potions his followers were crying out for. The lack of basic supplies of just about anything was becoming crucial! One of his most loyal minions had been overheard negotiating how many loaves of bread he'd be able to sell his manor for!

The answer was three.

Supply of his troops had dropped to the lowest levels ever, and that was just one factor contributing to their discontent. He'd already sent out raiding parties to the muggle world to obtain food and other basic supplies. But the lack of potions, from foot balms and skin creams to healing or curing a load of ills...

His followers were, most of them, upper crust purebloods who'd never done a day's work in their lives, yet never lacked for anything. The idea of going without basic, magical essentials was unheard of to them, and they were not appreciative of finding out what the experience felt like! The moans over the loss of their children (and he really should have seen that coming and taken better care not to insult those proud families by sending their children off to be slaughtered - obvious in hindsight, yet something he'd never cared about before), lack of replacement tents or wand cores...

Voldemort found himself wishing sometimes *all* his army were vampires, as they were so very easy to keep satisfied by all of the things he'd be doing anyway.

As far as muggles noticing the drain of that many vampires needing to feed, well, as far as Voldemort was concerned that was a problem for the Ministry Obliviators he controlled, nothing a Dark Lord of his caliber need worry about.

Leaving messes for others to clean up was one of his character flaws.

Noting they were effectively on their own in this, several of his Ministry lackeys had even petitioned the international community for aid. And been answered positively!

Oh, what a disappointment THAT had been!

According to international regulation, no aid could be delivered that was illegal in the country to receive it. And, even though the laws in the British Ministry were now so much muck lining a hydra lair, the International Confederation had been notified of each one as they'd passed, and kept copies.

To describe the shock of those British Ministry workers when they got informed that no aid would be forthcoming, because NOTHING could be found that was not illegal to trade into Britain, would require reams of paper.

It turns out that for over a century it was in Dumbledore's best interest to make laws on production, transport and sale of vital goods as restrictive as possible. It had now been figured out every time he did this increased the wealth he could get by smuggling those same goods illegally. But they had long since crossed the point where the wizarding economy of Britain could not function without smuggling. There were so many laws on the books that it was actually impossible to produce many of their necessary goods lawfully, or to ship them in from abroad.

No one had noticed this under Dumbledore, because his smuggling empire kept those goods flowing. But as his Ministry flunkies scrambled to interpret the mess (and read the Prophet expose on the man) now it was being realized their own laws made a functioning economy impossible!

One simple case for illustrating this was with cauldrons. You couldn't make a potion without a cauldron to mix it in, so in their own branch of magic they were as important as wands. Now it used to be that simple crockery was deemed sufficient. Everyone used it, and most families made their own. This led to some amount of inconsistency with brewing procedures and results, however, so a Universal Cauldron Standard was applied, first as an advisory measure, then as mandatory for schools, then mandatory on students AND schools, then on everybody. At each step thereafter more and more conformity was required until only mass produced cauldrons could conform, and home-made cauldrons disappeared. This was before Dumbledore's time, so he couldn't be blamed for it. But he did shamelessly take advantage of it.

Under Dumbledore this standard which had been placidly ignored for hundreds of years suddenly got updated, then updated again. Certifications for those working on the production process began to be required, then licenses, and more licenses and certifications, until it reached its current point where a person was literally required to spend 146 consecutive years in school, pay more gold than was in the Ministry's annual budget, and obtain forms which had never been printed much less filled out before they could work in a shop that made cauldrons.

And even then some of those requirements were contradictory. For example during those 146 years of school, 30 of them were required to be working on making cauldrons before it was legal for that person to make cauldrons, and most of the training time had to be under someone already fully certified to make cauldrons, when no one ever had met the complete criteria. So it was a Catch-22 scenario. One literally COULD NOT fill the requirements.

Not legally.

So, under the weight of ever-increasing burdens of regulations, eventually all British cauldron shops closed down, destroyed one by one by bureaucracy.

Naturally lack of domestic production led to imports. Only the regulations on those had been expanding at the same time, to an even greater degree, until soon it was even more complicated to import cauldrons than to create them. This would have strangled English potion making to death, except for the fact that Dumbledore's smuggled cauldrons kept the market afloat. For him this was the best of all possible circumstances, as he could charge what he liked for them and get away with it as he'd never again have any competition, and people had to have them.

If people needed them, and he was the only way to get them, he made a mint. So the shops sold Dumbledore's cauldrons exclusively, and the Ministry never did look too closely into who'd shipped them from where to get them there.

But when the smuggling pipeline dried up, suddenly no more cauldrons, and there was no domestic production to take up the slack. And now international aid on them was being refused, and this was just one good among many.

Naturally, on learning about this, people began to look into what happened. But it would be ages going through the endless reams of Ministry regulations to find just how they'd strangled their own markets to death, and until that got untangled and they knew what laws to repeal no one could even know how to begin to fix the situation so they could make or import cauldrons again.

And until then, no aid.

They couldn't even read those records until they'd somehow recovered them from being a soggy mess serving as hydra bedding.

If the problem was cauldrons alone they could've dealt with it, or passed an emergency measure to suspend the normal regulations to allow them to be shipped or made again. However it wasn't just cauldrons, it was EVERYTHING!

For example published books (because if Dumbledore didn't print it he didn't want it read, and that was made easier if they couldn't import it). Britain had several publishing firms that 'sent out' their orders for printing, only no commercial printing presses existed in magical Britain other than the Daily Prophet. So Dumbledore had been happily having small concerns in South America handle those orders, then smuggling the books inside the borders.

The same applied to potion ingredients, cloth, food staples (anything that Dumbledore did NOT grow had to be prevented from reaching their tables - except through his smuggling empire), wand cores, and a plethora of other things that their society simply couldn't function without.

Dumbledore had tied Magical Britain to his apron strings so thoroughly that without him and his smuggling they literally could not survive.

Only now he couldn't smuggle, having lost his phoenix.

It wouldn't have been his highest priority in any case, seeing as how he was directly involved in a war in which he was being actually threatened, and even killed several times. So he was focused more on victory than on keeping the greengrocers supplied.

Having conquered magical Britain right as the problem became evident, Voldemort was left holding the bag, and caught all of the blame for it.

Such was the way of politics.

But Voldemort was unable to appreciate the irony that *HE* was being punished for DUMBLEDORE'S failings! All he was aware of was that magical Britain was falling to pieces around him, its economy was in ruins, and he was unable to do anything about it. Strangleholds had been in place for so long that virtually nothing was produced domestically, and now it couldn't be shipped in, either.

With the loss of their vaults disappearing along with Gringotts bank, many of the purebloods had already been economically broken. Now crying out their needs like spoiled children, his Death Eaters were not helping matters any, either. Purebloods who'd never lacked for anything, and who'd followed him over promises of greater riches yet, were not taking well to having lost their wealth, their children, being starved, suffering discomforts of every kind, and worse still, having all of his promises of how glorious it would all be after he put them in charge suddenly revealed to be so many hollow words.

It was neither glamourous nor rewarding to be a Death Eater in Voldemort-run Britain. If anything, it was the worst suffering and deprivation any of those formerly privileged elites had ever been through; and were it not made impossible by the marks they wore on their arms, they would probably have assassinated him already over their disappointments, as he'd promised them wealth and glory and delivered only a truckload of pain and problems.

Battle losses had thinned pureblood ranks to the lowest point ever, and they weren't at all happy about the loss of their children and heirs, either. Even the celebrated breeding contracts had turned sour, as those laws also had an extra stipulation that every pureblood family must produce a girl who could then be used for breeding purposes. And, if a girl could be obtained no other way, then a boy would be taken and gender-changed - but so many families had lost what girls they had in that last assault, destroying the fortress town of Godric's Hollow, that many formerly male purebloods, even a few clan heads, had been subjected to the gender switching now required by law.

No, they were not grateful for his leadership at all by this point.

Actually, Voldemort would doubtless have been even more infuriated if he had known the economic problem was already in the process of resolving itself, among the common people he would've considered his last priority.

Naturally, the magical beings of Britain, not knowing the intent of the law was to stop them from buying anything without putting coins into Dumbledore's pockets, on finding themselves without certain basics, sought an alternative supply source - and those with contacts found it in Harry's Free Trade Towns.

No borders had ever been closed, or even regulated, between them and the rest of Britain (provided they weren't Death Eaters), so citizens of Harry's towns could pass freely in either direction with whatever goods they wanted. And those towns could regulate their own production and trade, so did not have the Byzantine labyrinth of laws in place to make it impossible - never having passed those themselves, and able to ignore the Ministry's decrees on the subject.

So, people began to try their hands at creating cauldrons, raising potion supplies, and food, and a host of other things because they saw the need. Anything people needed, someone was willing to try their hand at, mostly because Harry was there convincing them too, of course, but not long after he started, others began to catch the general spirit of helping out, and their impoverished countrymen needed everything.

In short, high among the many nigh-insoluble problems facing Voldemort was that magical Britain's economy had been strangled to the point where it was utterly dependent upon smuggling. Only now that smuggling had vanished it changed to where the economy was becoming beholden to the only six small towns who were NOT being strangled by oppressive over-regulation.

Coincidentally, the only parts Voldemort did not control.

Had he known, he would have been furious.

The remnants of the Ministry of Magic under him, of course, refused to believe the problem was due to their own disastrous decision making, and bureaucrats were starting to imagine up plots to undermine their rule being behind it all. And, naturally, their response to that was more crackdowns and MORE burdensome super-regulation!

Which was pretty much the politician's standard response to everything. So that problem for Voldemort's people was becoming worse, not better. And his followers were still seething over his failing them in many other ways, with the lost children and gender changes being big issues on every mind. Once again, if they could have killed him, they would've, and he felt certain they were already plotting against him.

But to kill off all of the disloyal followers at this point would swiftly leave him a refugee, fleeing Britain alone. As so many problems had impacted so many of his people that if he eliminated those who were angry or displeased with him he'd have no one left!

And he couldn't rule the country alone, so would be forced to flee.

Tom literally couldn't see any way out of the morass he'd become mired in.

I I I

Author's Notes:

And thus we see once again that taking control of something doesn't mean that you can run it properly. Something all-too-many tyrants learn too late.

And I don't have any doubts at all that if, in the real books, things had ever progressed beyond the 'lets kill everyone who disagrees with us' stage for Voldemort's followers, they would have been tremendously unimpressed with his peacetime leadership.

Somehow it strikes me that learning to be a good ruler just never crossed his mind. And, to run a government, someone needs better conflict resolution skills than to arbitrarily kill one side or the other of a disagreement.

 
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