The upper floor of his family's cottage was still and wholly silent.
Being as quiet as he possibly could, Harry pushed back his covers and sat up. His heart thudded loudly in his chest, fear mixed with anticipation fueling its tattoo. He had slept restlessly, plagued by images of a war he had yet to live and hoped that he'd never have to live. He had lost nearly everyone that he had ever loved once before. He could still remember the keen sense of loss that had afflicted him as a result – gut emptying, soul shattering, a numbness that rarely, if ever, left the heart. He wouldn't survive living through such personal tragedy again, or so he didn't believe his strength would hold out and see him through the war for a second time should all he be left with to fight for once again be vengeance and the slim possibility of peace.
Things will be different this time, Harry vowed to himself, scrubbing a stressed hand through his hair. His eyes stared into the darkness of his room, seeing the phantoms of the nightmare that had woken him. He rejected the ghostly forms of his family – bloody and lifeless, dark flames licking their flesh and reflecting in their glassy eyes – from his mind with ferocity. No. Even if my knowledge doesn't quite match up, I still know enough to stay ahead of the Dark Regime and prepare for Voldemort's rise.
Harry's thoughts were treacherous, however, countering his assurances with the cold hard facts.
Bertha Jorkins had gone missing, just as she had in the other world, while Peter Pettigrew was supposedly dead, as he had been in the other world, but had died under different circumstance and could possibly be dead.
Quirinus Quirrell had never taught Defense Against the Dark Arts during 1991-1992 school year and there had never been a problem with any of the unicorns being injured in the Forbidden Forest that year either. To Harry's knowledge, the Philosopher's Stone had never been housed within Hogwarts, though someone had attempted and failed to steal the Philosopher's Stone from Gringotts during the 1991 summer.
Voldemort's horcruxes remained a formidable task. Three were completely unaccounted for, another might or might not exist as of yet, two he was certain of, but couldn't obtain just yet, and another would take strategy and subtly on his part to destroy.
Nullifying the Kill Wards was going to be a greater difficulty than he'd anticipated, and without professional help, he might as well count his losses on that front.
The most concerning fact of all, at the current moment, however, was the fact that Voldemort appeared to have rallied at least a fraction of his continental allies and said foreign allies had attempted to kidnap Neville on his orders without the British Isle having been previously secured under their Dark Lord's rule. The fact that Voldemort had tried to get to Neville now, instead of waiting for the final task of the Triwizard Tournament, was only slightly less concerning.
“Fuck.”The curse was whispered and filled with the anxiety that had plagued Harry since the night before, after he had been released from Auror custody and had had a few hours to think things over, while waiting for news of his father's release. If he hadn't had a responsibility to his father and hadn't been so pissed off, he would have confirmed his suspicions then. If he hadn't been so exhaust by the time he and his parents had arrived home and his mother hadn't insist that he rest, he wouldn't have even bothered with sleep.
Flicking his wand into his hand from its holster on his wrist, Harry cut it in a counterclockwise circle through the air, before slashing the circle through with a straight, downward cut that flowed into a sharp jab and a right handed twist, effectively setting a sound suppression ward around his room. At replacing his wand in its holster, he swung his legs over the side of his bed and lowered his bare feet to the cool, wooden floorboards that permitted his room. A part of him was confident in what he'd find tonight, yet another wholly dreaded it.
Not bothering with lighting his wand or the oil lamp on his beside table, Harry got up from his bed and crossed his room over to his wardrobe, doing his best to ignore the uncomfortable knot twisting his stomach. He dressed swiftly in a pair of sturdy, dark colored of trousers, the Hebridean Black boots his mother had indulged him with, and a loose fitting, dark colored tunic. He pulled on his bomber jacket, before running his hand through his hair a few times to ensure that it was uniformly messy. Upon taking up his wand once more, he canceled the sound suppression ward and made for his bedroom door.
Harry tapped his wand to the cold metal door handle, as he turned handle slowly.. The door swung open without even a click of the latch or a whine of the hinges. He paused with one foot in his room and the other out in the hall, listening for any signs of life from Bethany's room. Hearing only the steady rhythm of his heart and nothing that remotely foretold of his sister's waking, he stepped all the way out into the hall and shut his door behind him, in doing so committing to the mission he'd set himself nearly 24 hours ago.
With cautious steps, Harry crept up the hall towards his parents' room, expertly avoiding the squeaky floorboards outside of the bathroom and around the top of the stairs. Upon reaching his mother and father's bedroom door, he tapped the door handle with his wand, again casting a silent silencing charm.
The soft sounds of sleep greeted Harry's ears, as he stepped out of the hall and into his parents' bedroom.
Though his mother and father's room was the master bedroom, it wasn't much bigger than Harry's own room or even Bethany's room. His mother preferred a quaint home, as she had said time and time again, after visiting the vast manors and castles of the Blacks and Longbottoms, and even after having visited the Weasleys' magically expanded, teetering home in Ottery St. Catchpole. Despite not being able to discern the decor that he knew to be centuries old and country-esque in origin, the cozy, homey atmosphere that his mother so loved engulfed Harry profoundly, as he set foot in the place his mother and father laid their heads at night.
Harry wasted no time in crossing the short distance between the door and his parents wicker framed bed, pausing and wincing briefly when he unknowingly treaded upon a weak floorboard. In the dark that filled the room, he could just make out that his father had his arms wrapped around his mother and that both were snuggled close to one another, lying on their sides.
Half tempted to turn back and leave his father to his rest, Harry recounted his and his father's succinct conversation about the last time he had sneaked off in the middle of the night. He could go and be back before his father ever knew that he'd left, he was sure. Nonetheless, the part of him that respected his father, loved his father, and would rather not disappoint his father refused to allow him to just go.
With a resigned sigh, Harry reached down to give his father's shoulder alight shake.
James stiffened instantly under his son's hand, his arms tensing around his wife, his back muscles coiling to alert.
“It's just me,” Harry soothed softly.
“Harry?” James opened his eyes and squinted over his shoulder to his son, surprise and concern showing on his shadowed face. As gently as he possibly could, he disentangled himself from Lily and turned to face Harry, reflexively reaching out for his glasses and his wand on his beside table. “Are you all right? Is Bethany –”
“I'm fine. Bethany is fine. Nothing is on fire. And no one is at the floo,” Harry said in a rushed whisper.
James frowned at his son and fumbled to put on his glasses. He made to light the tip of his wand, but Harry deftly caught his wrist, freezing the spell half formed.
“I'm going out,” Harry said by way of explanation for waking the man.“I'll be back before first light.”
“Will Sirius be going with you?” James asked, his voice still filled with sleep, yet distinctly displeased. He pulled his wrist free from Harry's grip, as Harry shook his in the negative response. He huffed, resignation making it's way onto his face. “All right, give me a minute.”
“I'm perfectly capable of handling this on my own.” Yet Harry backed a few steps away from the bed, as his father made to get up. “You don't need –”
“Maybe, maybe not.” James slid out of bed with slow, careful movement, as to not wake Lily. Standing clad in only his underpants, he towered over his fourteen year old son with authority, gazing down at him with his jaw set and his eyes hard behind his glasses. “I'd feel better, if someone went with you. And, since you aren't taking Sirius to go do whatever it is you think you need to do at,” he cast a quick tempus spell, “01:29 in the morning, I suppose that someone better be me. Besides, you and I need to have a talk.”
Harry quirked an eyebrow. “If you're going to reprimand me for killing that woman, you best save your breath. I know killing isn't you–”
“I know why you killed her,” James cut Harry off brusquely and stepped around his son to get to his wardrobe. “I understand that you needed to maintain control of the situation. I'm – I was an Auror, Harry.”
Catching the anger in his father's voice, as the man had declared his recent occupation, Harry elected to hold his silence. His father was in a mood.
Upon James dressing in attire that was similar in theme to Harry's, he and Harry receded from the room without a word to one another. Harry led the way up the hall to the stairs, his steps careful to avoid the weaker floorboards.
It wasn't until father and son had stepped outside into the night's chilled air that Harry turned to his father, whose mood had not lightened one bit.
“Listen,” Harry said seriously, keeping his voice low. His grip was tight on his father's arm, having pulled the man to a stop halfway to the front gate.
The sky was cloudy overhead. The fading, silver sliver of the crescent moon, as it waned into a new cycle, barely cut through the dense haze to cast a dark hue upon the earth below.
Harry met his father's cold gaze, looking up at the man with features that were barely perceptible through the darkness, yet grave and decidedly wary in essence. “No matter what, you do as I tell you tonight. I don't care what you see or hear, you don't as much as twitch unless I give you explicit permission to do so.”
“Where are we going?”
“Riddle Manor, Little Hangleton.” Harry released his father and made for the front gate, his tread connecting with each stepping stone as if it were daylight and the sun was high overhead. “I need to confirm Riddle is home … as well as get a rough estimate of how many followers he's brought back with him.”
At reaching the gate a fraction of a breath later, Harry turned back to his father. The man hadn't moved. “What?” he demanded. His father's closed off features told him very little of the nature of his father's thoughts, but made it quite clear that the man took issue with him.
“This brazen, fuck all attitude of yours is exactly what I wanted to talk to you about, Harry,” James said coolly, his stance steadfast and his eyes narrowed at his son. “If I understand correctly, you just announced that we're about to scout Voldemort's hideout - you planned on doing so on you own – as if this just another Saturday night to you.”
Harry shifted uneasily. In a way, it was, but he didn't think his father wanted to hear as much.
“I don't care how good you think you are, Harry,” James bit out harshly, “you're not untouchable!”
“I know.” Harry regarded the man as calmly as he could manage, refusing to give into the teenage impulse to snap back at the man with defiance. I should have know this was coming. He sighed mentally. While they weren't exactly pressed for time, he wished his father hadn't picked now to express his love and concern.
“Do you?” James challenged Harry, his voice raising in volume and anger. He took a powerful stride towards his son. “You certainly looked like you thought nothing could touch you last night. You had over a dozen enemy wands on you and you acted as if the Killing Curse would just brush off you. It won't, son.” He closed the gap between him and Harry and roughly grabbed a fist full of Harry's bomber jacket, pulling his son towards him with a forcible jerk. “You will die, Harry. You're as mortal as I am, as your mother, your sister, your fucking godfather.” A disdain filled sneer twisted his lips, his grip on his son flexing with his anger. “You tell me to obey your every command, act as if I need protecting, yet you strut towards the danger that awaits you tonight as if you own the night and it would never dream of turning on you.”
“I'm scared shitless.” Harry held his father's almost cruel gaze with open honesty, allowing the fear that resided deep within him to show plainly on his face and in his eyes. “Is that what you want to hear? I walked out on to that dance floor with my heart beating steady in my chest, yet a fraction of an inch from jumping right out of my throat. Trust me. There wasn't a second that I wasn't aware of every wand on me. Or perhaps you want me to confide to you how, when I faced the Kill Wards with Sirius a week ago, I knew that the possibility of my death was very real, yet I choose to act regardless? I consciously put my life below all the death and destruction that I knew would come, if I didn't do what had to be done – made the call to wager my mortality for a greater cause.”
With his father so close to him, Harry could feel his father's body rigid against his own, his father's breath hot on his flesh, could taste the man's familiar scent of spice and oak on the air that they shared, as he drew a shuddered breath, and feel his father's magic pulsating against his own – wild, angry, and desperate. “Maybe I flaunt death too carelessly at times, I'll give you that, Dad,” he admitted in a barely audible whisper. “But I can't face the things I face – do the things I do – if I allow fear to rule me. I'd be ripped apart and people would die. I'm so very, sincerely sorry that I scared you. I'd promise that I won't do it again, but we both know that I can't.”
James shoved away from Harry, releasing his son as he did so, and turned towards the garden fence. His hands went to his face, rubbing his upturned brow and beneath his glasses, as he took several steps into the grass. His shoulders were tense and the noise of frustration that escaped him was unmistakable. He wanted to scream, yell, and vent all that he held inside him, Harry was sure.
“If you're not up to this, I will go and wake Sirius,” Harry said compassionately. “I give you my promise.”
“No.” James shook his head, the word was careful, yet steady. “I'm fine.”
“What I told you before still stands.” Harry pinned his father with awarning look, as the man turned to face him once more. “Can you handle that?”
“I won't stand aside and watch you be killed,” James refuted, turning back to his son, his eyes severe.
“No one is going to be killing anyone.” Harry stated firmly. You included, he added mentally. He didn't know how his father would react, if they saw Pettigrew tonight. He knew his own reaction would be visceral, as it would be at the sight of the Dark Regime assembled or even the Dark Lord on his own. “I don't plan on getting that close.”
“All right,” James said and nodded.
Harry held out his hand. “I'll apparate us about a mile out initially.”
Upon his father taking his hand and ensuring that they were both within the Apparation Field just inside of the front gate, Harry turned on the spot, focusing on their destination with the entirety of his being.
Rain drops splattered Harry and James's cheeks and wet their clothing and hair. The country lane before them was paved and bordered by high, tangled hedgerows. In the darkness, a sign post could only just be made out. One of it's arms read: GREAT HANGLETON, 5 MILES, and pointed behind Harry and James. The other arm, pointing in the direction Harry and James were facing, read: LITTLE HANGLETON, 1MILE.
Though Harry had never physically set foot on this particular patch of earth, the scene was forebodingly familiar to him. He inhaled a long, slow breath. The scent of bramble bushes, summer rain, and a detectable note of highly concentrated, potent magic filled his nostrils. He exhaled with a purposeful stride forward. With every subsequent step he took, he focused his mind solely on his mission, detaching himself from his fear, his anger, his hate, and the confrontation with his father just moments before.
Harry boots splashed against the wet pavement in tandem with his father's unwavering gait beside him – the man a silent presence, comforting and somewhat grounding.
They walked for several minutes, the patter of the rain the only sound of the night.
As the lane began to crest the valley of Little Hangleton, Harry grew ever more acutely aware of the way the cold drops of precipitation slithered down the back of his neck and crept along his spine, like icy fingers tracing patterns on his flesh. The eerie feeling was made all the more formidable and more so tangible by the heady magic tainting the air, growing with strength with his every step. He was certain that he had felt a form of Muggle repelling ward ten yards back.
Two steps more, the lane cut in a steep, downward slope and Harry's approach faltered as abruptly as if he'd walked straight into a brick wall. He sucked in a sharp, jagged breath, as the blood drained from his cheeks and a hollow feeling entered his stomach. The mixture of shock and horror combined with the onslaught of countless flashbacks to similar scenes from his life in the other world sliced through his carefully composed detachment, flooding him with a sense of dread.
“What's happened here?” James asked in a horrified whisper, having come to a rigid halt only a half step behind Harry.
At first glance, nothing appeared overtly wrong. Nestled at the bottom of the valley, the village of Little Hangleton stood erect, it's church towering over its shops and residences. It was quiet, quaint. It could almost be mistaken for a sleeping country village that would wake with the morning light, its inhabitants rising early to take on the day – parents heading off to work, as their children dashed off to wreak havoc with their friends, the village baker setting out fresh baked croissants and cinnamon buns in preparation for the morning rush, neighbors greeting one another over fences and across the street, as they brought in the day's paper, and the old maid putting out scraps from the previous night's dinner for the stray dog everyone knew, but no one claimed.
And yet, the signs of something terrible having occurred were rampant. Driveways where cars should surely be parked were empty. Lawns were noticeably unkempt. There was a faint glint of shattered glass sprinkled up the main drag. A nozzle laid feet from the gas pump it belonged to, where it had no doubt come to rest after having pulled free from a speeding away vehicle headed towards Great Hangleton. The few flickering street lamps that remained alight throughout the village were alone in giving suggestion to human habitation, and yet they themselves were just an illusion, a nasty lie.
Harry shut his eyes, taking hold of the dread and fear attempting to dominate him and shoved it back into the recesses of his mind. He had a mission to fulfill. At obtaining objective clarity, he opened his senses fully and reached out to the magic chocking his every breath. It was slimy, thick, nausea inducing. Where it physically touched him, it was like an oily film coating his skin. Powerful Dark Magic had been used, in excess and without an iota of hesitation. There was no mistaking it.
Two weeks ago, give or take a day or two, considering the amount of dissipation, Harry calculated, unable to get an exact feel for what curses had been cast or possible rite had been invoked. As he reopened his eyes, his gaze locked on the old manor that claimed the hillside opposite his and his father's position. Unlike Little Hangleton below, it was teeming with life.
“There's been no reports of dark activity lately?” Harry asked his father, his gaze unwavering from the lit up manor house. Every so often a shadow would pass in front of one of the many windows. Due to the distance, he couldn't be sure, but he was almost certain that he'd seen a group enter the manor, in a moment where the front door had swung open.
“None,” James replied stoically.
“We best not get any closer then,” Harry said, leery of the wards that had been laid to shield Riddle Manor and Little Hangleton from the Ministry of Magic.
As Harry knelt down and proceed to lay himself flat on his stomach without regard for the cold, hard, soaked thoroughly pavement or the rain continuing to pound down on his back, James gave his son a peculiar look, grimaced, and followed suit.
Harry shuffled closer to the man, his left shoulder making contact with his father's right and their sides becoming flush with one another. Snapping his wand into his right hand, he reached out in front of him and his father and, without preamble, began to knit together a one-way obscuring ward, a one-way sound suppression ward, and one of the strongest and most universal shielding wards that he knew of, weaving the magic with well practiced, tight control, as to avoid the possibility of detection the best he could. He carefully laid the magic over him and his father like a blanket and, for a good measure, he warped them both over the head with a Disillusionment Charm.
“Owe.” James rubbed his scalp where Harry had struck him, shivering at the chill of the Disillusionment Charm's magic washing him.
“I didn't hit you that hard.” Harry cut his wand through the air before him and his father with far less elegant wand movements this time, conjuring two sets of gold Omnioculars. He holstered his wand and picked up both sets, offering one of the sets to his father. “I'm not Moody, after all.”
“These are patented material.” James took the Omnioculars begrudgingly, his grimace even more pronounced.
“Is that so?” Harry hummed with disinterest, as he adjusted his set of Omnioculars for night lighting and long distance. “Remember,” he said gravely, “no matter what you see, you don't move a muscle unless I say so.”
James grunted what might have been assent and adjusted his Omnioculars for night lighting and long distance as well.
Harry sighed, bring his own Omnioculars up to his eyes.
There was a brief moment where Harry's vision was nothing but darkness. Then, after panning his Omnioculars up and to the left, he was abruptly staring at a face that he'd never forget. The bloodshot, ice blue eyes ringed in wrinkled, bruised colored flesh, the grizzled eyebrows and just as gray locks braided back ritually, the sharp jaw and notable chin, the yellowed teeth that were a result of too much tobacco and a life time of sipping wine mixed with virgins' blood were features that had once struck so much fear in his being that he'd begged for the grace of death. Nikita Kalinouski was one of Voldemort's most prized continental allies, a descendant of the Belarus House of Kalinouski, a Necromancer, a Mind Mage, and an all around sadistic fuck. Harry hadn't known what torture was, until Kalinouski had had him under his wand.
With gritted teeth, Harry zoomed out a minuscule amount and followed Kalinouski's gaze across the polished wood surface of the table the man was seated at. Locking onto another familiar face, he bit his tongue in an effort to hold back a curse. Youthful, tantalizingly pale skin, ringlets of blonde hair, eyes black as night, and a body very, very few men would ever consider saying no to. Elina Lahti had been the best fuck of his life, as well as his biggest mistake. The back of his neck grew hot, as his groin stirred at the memory of what those ruby red lips had done to him and the way those slender, alabaster fingers had gripped him and teased his heated flesh. Even more potent was the memory of the mind blowing, heart stuttering orgasm that had rocked through his body, as she had mercilessly ridden him right off the cliff of ecstasy and into the void beyond. Harry swallowed hard, his desire for her only tamed by the sting of betrayal and the knowledge of the countless lives that had been lost due to her treachery. Her death had been bloody, personal, and entirely without mercy.
Panning to Elina's right, Harry was greeted with a face that he knew only from a photograph, a photograph Elina had shown him no less. Olavi Lahti had died by the Dark Lord's hand, or so Elina had claimed. Seeing as she'd been attempting to gain his sympathies at the time, he had no way of knowing whether that had been the man's fate or not, as he had killed the man's daughter before he had gotten around to verifying the lies she had fed him. All that he could ascertain about the blond haired, middle-aged, somewhat grungy looking man was that he had to be of some value for him and his daughter to be sitting at the same table as Kalinouski.
Harry zoomed out even further, so that he might get a better understanding of what was happening. With the window he'd been looking through fully in frame of his Omnioculars, he could not hold back the curse that slipped past his lips.
Voldemort was hosting a gathering of some sort. That much was clear. While Kalinouski and the two Lahti's were at the end of the table closest to the window, nine other were seated further up the table with Lucius Malfoy strutting into the dilapidated room to no doubt join the already assembled party.
“Malfoy, Burke, Nott …” Harry heard his father list off beside him.
Nicolau Dantès, a dark haired, dark skinned aristocrat from Galicia who had a talent with poisons and a fetish for daggers, Eldrich Jaeger, a huskily built man who was an expert tracker and wardsmith, and Thyia Zabat, an attractive witch who had enough connections throughout Europe to make almost any problem a client might bring to her disappear, were notable in addition to Lucius Malfoy, Lachlan Burke, and Icarus Nott.
Of the four who Harry didn't know, or at least didn't recognize by face, all appeared outwardly to be as formidable as those they were surrounded by. Two of the men shared the same narrow nose, gray eyes, and square jaw, while one's hair was considerably darker than the other and the short of the two was stocky in build, yet just as muscular as the taller. The remaining man was a wiry creature with thick glasses distorting intelligent, cunning eyes. His hair, which was brown except for a slightly reddish hue, was a mass of entangled curls atop his head. The pipe propped out of the corner of his mouth was lit and emitting the purple smoke of Drakeweed from its chamber. The craggy looking witch beside him cast an air freshing charm repeatedly in his direction, her gaze shrewd and disapproving.
Harry set his Omnioculars to record and set about capturing images of the four to be used to identify them later. He had no sooner finished taking a recording of the woman, when he felt his father tense and heard him emit a low growl. Zooming his Omnioculars back out to take in the full scope of the window once more, he saw why.
Peter Pettigrew – just as fat, though not as bald as he'd been in the other world, but with far less hair than he'd had nearly six years ago – was scurrying around the table with a silver serving tray filled with a variety of drinks.
“How?”James demanded, his voice accusatory.
“You and Sirius may have burned his mother's house to ash, but a rat is a rat,” Harry said darkly.
“We sealed him in. I –” A strangled note clawed at James's throat, cutting him off. “He couldn't have survived.” The admittance barely qualified as a whisper.
“Other than the trouble with Bones, it doesn't matter now, does it?” Harry asked, not unkindly, his gaze still fixed on Pettigrew's pathetic display of serving Kalinouski a glass of what most would assume to be wine, but Harry knew to be comprised of something far more sinister. The traitor was the key to this mess. He was sure of it. If I could just get my hands on the bastard …
For a second time in less than an hour, Harry's blood ran cold for reasons entirely unrelated to his rain soaked clothing and the night's chill ghosting across his exposed flesh.
Tom Marvolo Riddle – twenty years old – all rich, dark locks and frigid, calculating eyes – had stepped in front of the window Harry had been spying through, his very corporeal form turned towards the night and his power laced gaze staring directly into Harry's own.
“No,” Harry denied, his utterance a vain protest, as his eyes locked upon the gold chain just visible at the base of Riddle's collar.
Vaguely, Harry was aware that Riddle spoke, gave an order – was aware that there was a flurry of activity behind the abomination that could hardly be called a man. Yet, he couldn't move, couldn't comprehend the situation or even remotely employ reason. He was paralyzed, utterly horrified.
The sudden explosion of noise around him snapped Harry out of his stupor, jolting him into the moment as effectively as a fist to the face. Breath filled his burning lungs, as his head jerked up from his Omnioculars and his muscles tensed with flight.
Eldrich Jaeger stood but feet from him with a manic grin plastered across his face, his wand leveled at the pavement where Harry and his father lay.
As the ebony wand curved through the air in the beginnings of countering the blanket of warding magic Harry had woven, Harry grabbed hold of his father and shredded his wards himself without a second thought. His heart beat a single beat and then he and his father were gone, over a dozen curses raining down on where they had been and impacting the pavement futilely.