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Into the Arena: The Cursed Child

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INTO THE ARENA: THE CURSED CHILD

~ the girl with the sword ~ the life and death of Harry Potter ~ the great grounding ~ there’s no place like home ~~ lost children crossing ~ the heir and the spare ~ if it wasn’t for you meddling kids ~ this is a kidnapping ~ flight of death ~ can’t and won’t ~ thieves and liars in the night ~

 

PART ONE

April 16th, 2009 

 

~ the girl with the sword

 

 When her father had gone off to fight, he had hugged her tight, like he was trying to remember the shape and warmth of her. Just like she was him. Then he had pulled back, his reluctance only showing in the fingers that lingered on her shoulders, and smiled at her. Like a man who was walking off to face death yet again, but wouldn’t miss it, because it was for the world.

 Then he ruffled her hair, the git, and said grinningly, “Don’t let trouble find you, love.”

 Just come back, she didn’t say.

 Don’t die, she didn’t say.

 Instead, she scoffed, and said, “You’re one to talk, Dad.”

 Her father laughed. “S’pose I am,” he agreed, and his calloused fingers finally pulled away. “I’ll see you on the other side, love, when this is all over. Listen to Hannah and Neville. Don’t fight with Al or Jim or Lily or Scorpius. Look after Teddy.”

 And then he left, before she could come up with anything clever to say. Aw, but I was gonna kill ‘em and make it look like an accident, was the first thing that had come to mind. But that wasn't clever. And it had been a little too morbid. Even for her. Watching her father walk off to fight Voldemort, for what might be the last time, her gallows humour gathered in her stomach and made her feel unfunny. Almost sick with it.

 She could see people watching her father go, with knowing looks that turned sadly to her. Witches and wizards and elves and goblins alike. They watched her father go with respect, but all she could see was people paying their respects. Like the third time would be the charm for Voldemort.

 “Pssst!”

 Her head snapped around. Teddy, her father’s godchild, was gesturing for her to join them behind a stack of crates. Teddy seemed insistent about it. So, she trudged over to join them, because her father was gone now, and anything was better than standing around not crying.

 Most of the time, it was very easy to not cry. She went around not crying all the time. But suddenly, now, it was very hard. Suddenly all she could think about was how she was Not Crying. She wanted to think about anything else, and figuring out why Teddy, who was her sibling in all the ways that counted, was looked so very shifty… well… it counted just fine as “anything else”.

 “What?” she snapped. “What’re you sneaking around for?”

 She’d been wondering where Teddy had gone.

 Teddy shoved a finger against their lips, mashing their nose, with a furtive look. “Shh! Not so loud!” They grabbed her arm and pulled her farther behind the crates, like they were up to something, as usual. “We don’t want anyone to hear this! If anyone sees us, they’ll know and the gig is up!”

 “What gig? What are you doing now? Ted, now’s not the time for-”

 Teddy pressed the finger against her mouth. “Shh!”

 Her eyes narrowed on her god-sibling. She would bite this finger, so help her.

 Teddy seemed to sense this and, sensibly, retracted the hand. This wasn’t the first time Teddy had pulled her to crouch secretively behind something and then tried to talk her into helping them into or out of trouble. But Teddy then shuffled nervously as she glared at them. Which was strange, because Teddy wasn’t at all the sort to be cowed by her glare, or by much of anything. Which meant they must’ve done something awful this time.

 “What. Did. You. Do?” she hissed.

 They were at the end of things, finally. It just wasn’t the time for any stupid mischief.

 “I… I might’ve told Nev that we’d be with Angie,” Teddy whispered, fiddling with the old, battered watch they newly had taped to their wrist. “And I might’ve told Angie that we’d be with Nev.”

 She blinked at them. Then she looked at the watch they were fiddling with.

 It was her father’s watch. He’d given it to Teddy just yesterday, as an early birthday present, and she hadn’t begrudged it of Teddy. They were practically siblings. Besides, she had her Aunt Andy’s watch on her wrist now – a pretty golden thing with a red strap, though useless with its broken face, an allowance – she’d had it ever since Teddy’s grandmother had died years ago, even though she’d barely had to the chance to know the woman.

 Oh.

 If she hadn’t already been scowling at Teddy, she would’ve done so now.

 “You’re going after Dad,” she said accusingly.

 Teddy lifted their chin defiantly. She should’ve seen it immediately, with the goggles pushed up into Teddy’s dandelion fluffy, bubble-gum blue hair, and with the purse wrapped like an unnecessary belt around one of Teddy’s late mum’s Weird Sisters shirts. Teddy had a long, ragged black cloak sitting on their shoulders that had seen many an ill-advised adventure.

 “Yeah, I am,” Teddy said. “Someone’s got to make sure he makes it back.”

 “He always makes it back, Ted,” she said.

 I’d kill him myself if he didn’t, she didn’t say. I’d find a way to bring him back and kill him again.

 “In one piece? Well, I’m gonna make sure he keeps it that way. He’s never gone off to fight Him on his own before! Not like this! You heard what Ron said, didn’t you? That this was basically a suicide run!” Teddy’s voice was the accusing one now. “And Aunt Luna said that he’d been depressed lately and Jim told Al that Harry might not make it back-”

 “Jim’s an idiot and so is Al.”

 “-because He’s definitely going to be really angry about the Sealing! Which made Lily cry and-”

 “Dad’s not going to die,” she snapped.

 But the words felt hollow. Just like the smiles all around, as her father had gone off to fight. It was true that he’d never gone off quite like this. He didn’t really have anyone watching his back this time. Not really. He’d said that he wouldn’t really be alone, but those words had felt hollow too.

 “Yeah, he’s not,” Teddy agreed fiercely. “Because I’m going off to make sure he makes it out.”

 “You?” she said. “You think you can help him fight Him?”

 “If I have to,” Teddy said determinedly, but she could see the fright in their look.

 “Ted, you’re ten.”

 “I’m nearly eleven, thanks!” Teddy snapped back, the younger sibling who had never acted like it. “And I could if I had to! Don’t act like you’re sooo much older! You’re not even twelve yet and I’m already taller, so I don’t need any ‘looking after’ from you! Harry’s the one who needs the looking after and I’m going after him and I didn’t have to invite you to come with me.”

 It would have been so easy to shout out that she and Teddy were there. That Teddy was swearing on getting up to no good, like her father liked to say, and some real foolish no good at that. And that Teddy was trying to talk her into it again. In that moment, she wanted to be that petty.

 “Come on, Delphi,” Teddy whispered, pleading. “Don’t you want your dad to come home?”

 It was the only thing Delphi wanted. That only thing she truly wanted.

 She might have been born before the Sealing that had cut them off from the rest of the world and unleashed such wild magic into the prison Voldemort had made, but she remembered nothing of that world. She had never seen the world beyond. Everyone had always told her that the grass was greener on the other side and Delphi had wanted to see it, more badly than she had ever wanted anything before, but not half so badly as she wanted her father, Harry Potter, to live now.

 Delphi remembered the world before she’d met her father, barely, in bright flashes of fear and misery and flight. That was a world that Delphi didn’t want to see. That was a world Delphi would do anything not to have to see again. Nothing could be so terrifying as losing her father.

 Not even Him.

 But what could she do about it?

 Delphi swallowed. “What are you going to do, Ted? How are you even going to get there?”

 Ted grinned at her – like they thought they were being clever, like they knew that they’d won talking in into trouble again, like they’d thought of running after Harry first – and Delphi scowled at them again for it. But her scowl disappeared when Teddy pulled out a familiar bag of marbles from their purse. A bag of Portkeys.  

 Oh.

 “I’m gonna get Harry out of there,” Teddy said determinedly. “Sneak in and watch, while everyone’s distracted, and wait for the right moments. Hit and run, if I have to. Distract Him, if I have to. Just grab Harry and do a runner, if I have to.” They lifted their chin again. “Someone has to make sure that Harry makes it back, so it might as well be me.”

 Teddy sounded like Dad, saying that.

 “And you,” Teddy tacked on, daringly, sounding more like themselves. “If you’re brave enough.”

 Delphi’s eyes narrowed on her god-sibling again.

 I’m telling, she didn’t say.

 You can’t dare me to do something this foolish, she didn’t say.

 Instead, she said, archly and rather stupidly, “I have more bravery in my pinky toe, than you do in your whole body.” I can do that too. That someone can be me too. “You’re not going anywhere without me, Teddy Lupin-Tonks.”

 Harry had said to look after them, after all.

 “Dressed like that?” Teddy said, with a teasing grin, like they weren’t wearing sparkly pink trainers for a bloody stealth mission. “I wouldn’t be caught dead like that, if I were you.”  

 Delphi sniffed at him. “I wouldn’t be caught dead in it either, which is rather the point.”

 She had her own adventuring clothes on, in preparation for their journey to the world beyond the Sealing, which was admittedly a bit dull next to Teddy. Jeans and a jumper, with a blue raincoat overtop, and sensible boots. Her wallet was in her coat pocket. Her black hair was tied tightly back into a manageable ponytail, because some of them couldn’t change their appearance on complete whims, and Delphi’s hair was wild with whims of its own when it was long.

 “Guess it is at that,” Teddy said cheerfully. “But we oughta go, if we wanna get there on time. I can’t get us right to the Ministry, only to the closest hideout. D’you need anything else?”

 While Delphi had felt equipped, at least in her outfit, to leave the Sealing behind her… Well, she did feel a bit empty-handed going off to maybe face Voldemort alongside her father. She had her own pair of goggles in her wallet, so she got those out and put them on her forehead to pull down later. And… she still felt empty-handed.

 Delphi ran through the list of useful things she had tucked away, especially the things she had been given in the hopes she would never need them. She had her Unbeatable Beater’s bat in her wallet, a well-used birthday present which usually kept her from feeling empty-handed, but she didn’t want to get it out yet. Besides, bringing a Beater’s bat to a fight with a Dark Lord, no matter how the bat had been modified or how nice it was to fantasize whacking him with it, felt a bit… not enough.

 “Come on,” Teddy whispered. “We’ve gotta sneak out before we can pop out of here.”

 Teddy crawled along the crates and Delphi watched them.

 “What’re you doing?”

 Teddy looked back at her suspiciously. “Sneaking out.”

 Delphi scoffed. “That’s not sneaking out,” she said, and reached back into her wallet for one of those useful things. She felt around for what her father had left her. Once she had it, she pulled, and her father’s Invisibility Cloak billowed out in a pile of shimmering fabric. “This is sneaking out.”

 Teddy’s jaw dropped. “Wicked,” they breathed. “When did Harry give you that?”

 “A few days ago,” Delphi answered smugly. 

 Delphi felt less empty-handed, as she wrapped the cloak around herself and Teddy, and held on tightly. Her father had given her the Invisibility Cloak, properly hers to have and use as she pleased, well or wickedly, and it made Delphi feel as safe as such a gesture had scared her. But it wasn’t enough. It wouldn’t be enough to just sit and hide under the Invisibility Cloak, and hope not to die and hope that her father wouldn’t die.

 She saw what she was missing as she and Teddy were halfway to the door.

 Oh.

 Delphi put her hand on Teddy’s shoulder and tugged, eyes fixed greedily on the gleaming metal sitting on a table. Temporarily set aside. Temporarily unguarded. A weapon that could temporarily finally be hers.  

 “Psst, Ted. We need to get that.”

 Teddy followed her furtive gesture and their jaw dropped again. “Nev’s sword? You want to take Neville’s sword?” Then they grinned, wide and appreciative and always willing to be talked into getting up to no good, and said, “Wicked.”

 Delphi had wanted that sword since she’d first seen it. It was far easier than it ought to have been, to slowly cross the room around the edges, to slip the sword under the cloak with them when no one was looking, and to sneak away. Delphi definitely didn’t feel empty-handed holding it. Her heart fluttered in her throat as they snuck away – the sword gleamed so sharply, all bloody rubies and goblin silver, and its venom was famously deadly – but she didn’t feel empty-handed anymore.

 “Let’s get out of here,” Teddy whispered, with a sharp gleam of excitement in their eyes from the theft, as they neared the door again. “You’re making us late, Delphi. If you don’t want if, I’ll take it.”

 Delphi scowled at them and held the sword away. “No,” she hissed. “It’s mine.”

 “You’re not even a bit Gryffindor,” Teddy complained.

 “You’re not even a bit Slytherin,” Delphi countered easily. “I’m still closer.”

 She felt properly fierce and brave with the Sword of Godric Gryffindor in her hands. She might not have had a bit of Gryffindor in her, but she had that bit of Slytherin in her, and… well… Gryffindor and Slytherin had been friends once upon a time. Delphi decided that Gryffindor wouldn’t mind. If he did mind, well… it was over his dead body, sort of… so Gryffindor could just deal with it while she went off to find her father and make sure Dad didn’t die on her.

 Her father had told her not to let trouble find her, as he’d left. Following him now, Delphi had no intention of letting trouble find her or Teddy. Letting trouble find her was letting it get the drop on her. It was much better, Delphi thought, to go out and find trouble first. Then she’d get the drop on it first. And there was a lot she and Teddy could do sneaking around and surprising people.

 Harry had taught them that, whether he’d meant to or not.

 “You ready, Del?” Teddy whispered, once they’d finally made it out the door.

 Delphi scoffed. “I’m waiting on you.”

 Teddy grinned, like they could see the tightness of her grin on the sword, and held up one of the marbles. Delphi used her free hand to grab tightly on the Invisibility Cloak, while Teddy linked arms with her sword arm with their free hand.

 “The Ministry of the Ministry of Magic,” Teddy whispered.

 And the night around them flew apart, as the Portkey tugged them away.

 

 April 17th, 2009

 

 ~ the life and death of Harry Potter 

 

 There were things that Harry had expected of this final midnight duel with Voldemort. He had expected that it would be bloody and vicious and graceless. It didn’t surprise him that they were tearing the Ministry down around them, column by column, arch by arch, and roof by floor by wall.

 It didn’t surprise him that their shields were shattering again and again, sometimes secondary in how they had turned to a fight of death and pain and horror thrown with furious abandon. Metal and stone, fire and lightning, whatever else they could throw about that had always given Voldemort and other terrible men delusions of godhood. The best defence was a good offense, wasn’t it? Anything – anything – to kill the foe that had foiled them for so long.

 Voldemort had nothing left to lose and Harry had nothing else to win. It was a match made in hell. They fell down into the depths of the Once-Ministry in wild distraction, and they tore the great building and all its basements down with them.   

 It didn’t surprise Harry that he paid for this.

 A piece of rubble came out of the chaotic cursefire and clipped Harry on the side of the head. He went down like a sack of bricks, blood running down his face and over his lightning-bolt scar, onto a collapsed wall of bricks. Like the mortal man he was. Then he couldn’t scrabble up out of the Once-Ministry wreckage quickly enough. Harry was too dazed to prevent Voldemort from conjuring dark ropes that dug into his bloody limbs, that choked him, and that brought him to his knees like a man on an executioner’s block.

 It didn’t surprise Harry to look up at Voldemort, whose hands were beginning to glow a deathly green, and be helpless to free himself in time. He had known that this might happen. For all that Tom Riddle was a madman and a fool, he was still dangerous. Harry had died at Voldemort’s hands before, for all that he’d been fortunate enough to be able to get up again, and he’d fought the man enough times to be nearly sick with the constant threat of death.

 That it didn’t surprise Harry, however, didn’t mean he wanted to die. He had gone off to this duel partly as a distraction, but also to win it, because he couldn’t release Voldemort on the rest of the world. The bastard didn’t deserve the freedom he’d accidentally taken from all of them.

 And Harry wanted to live. He wanted to see the world that he had never known as a child that he might not have the opportunity to see one day. He wanted at least a peaceful life, if he would never be allowed a normal one. He wanted to see the children live peaceful, happy lives and know a better world. He had come to this fight willing to give his life if he had to, but not willing to die. For fuck's sake, he was only twenty-eight; it shouldn't have almost felt like this was overdue. 

 For a brief, hideous moment, Harry felt his heart pound and his breath seize and his muscles ache with the tension, as he met Voldemort’s hateful red stare with the knowledge that he was going to die. Voldemort said nothing, but his hands glowed green with death. The only sound between them, down in the depths of this wrecked Once-Ministry, was the echo of the breaking building far off in the distance.

 Voldemort raised his hands. Like his long fingers were reaching ahead of him for the long-awaited death of Harry Potter like it was a thing to grasp and hold. Like it was all he had ever wanted.

 And then there was a bright flash of silver.

 A half-invisible figure, fallen from above, landed at Voldemort’s side in a crash of rubble and dust and a child who hadn’t yet learned how to fly with any control. It was an eleven-year-old girl, with unruly black hair, bottle-end goggles, a blue raincoat, and Harry’s Invisibility Cloak shimmering around her shoulders. She was wielding a bright sword; it had been over her head and she had swung mercilessly down on Voldemort’s outstretched arms.

 And the silver sword cut true.

 It went clean through Voldemort’s left forearm, between the elbow and the wrist, and through two fingers and a thumb of his right hand. Voldemort’s left hand and right-hand fingers hit the ground in light thumps and bright bursts of green light, which faded harmlessly into the pale skin as red blood seeped and spurted out. Some of the blood splattered across the snarling face of the young girl, and across Voldemort’s own white face as he startled back too late.

 The hideous moment broke. Voldemort screamed. High and horrified and furious. The two fingers remaining of his right hand sparked green as the rest spurted scarlet, and his red eyes fixed dangerously on the girl next to him who had dared to maim a would-be god.

 This all surprised Harry.

 The girl’s name was Delphini, Harry’s eleven-year-old daughter, and she now swung the Sword of Godric Gryffindor at Voldemort’s midsection like it was her Beater’s bat. Clumsily. Furiously. Hurriedly. Like the world depended on it. Like Harry’s life depended on it. Like the Quidditch Cup of Revenge depended on her hacking Voldemort in half with a sword she had definitely stolen.

 In hindsight, Harry would probably wonder why he had been surprised.

 As soon as Voldemort had opened his mouth to scream, Harry had freed himself, burning through the ropes that held him. He leaped forward out of the ashes. Voldemort spun away from Delphi’s wild swing, his eyes burning with hatred, and Harry snatched the half-invisible Delphi up into his arms as she missed.

 The Sword of Gryffindor sliced into billowing black robes, and they bounded away.

 And there was a whistling sound above them. Like something quite large was falling and falling fast, headed straight for them from directly above. A great gilded black lift smashed down behind them, between them and Voldemort, followed by several more like they’d been spilled from an enormous candy machine of massive, heavy elevators. Right on top of Voldemort’s head.

 Harry leaped away with his daughter, up onto a platform made of some Once-Ministry room cracked open during the battle, where he could readjust and continue to run. Unfortunately, the black spots that had plagued him when he was struck returned, unhappy with his sudden movements. Harry staggered against a section of wall, spelling the blood from his eyes as Delphi spilled out of his arms.

 He grabbed desperately after her when she moved away from him, his fingers snagging the shimmering Invisibility Cloak. He glanced back towards Voldemort, spots dancing in his eyes still. 

 “Level Ni-ni-nine: Dep-ar-artme-me-ent of Mysteri-ri-ries,” a woman’s voice sweetly informed any listeners, from within the pile of lifts. Several cage doors creaked open in the mess.

 And the lifts blew outwards, with a high scream of rage, and the debris of the lifts smashing into the Once-Ministry wreckage around them. Harry released Delphi to deflect the debris that came at them. He also took the opportunity to shoot a Blasting Curse at the furious figure in the centre of it.

 Voldemort crossed his bloody, maimed arms to raise shields and Harry’s bright orange spell connected with a deafening bang. Voldemort was thrown back and dust was thrown up around him. A final lift fell out of the darkness above and crashed down where Voldemort had been standing, and the metal was torn apart in a shriek of rage and wild, graceless force for daring to get between them.

 “Delphi, run,” Harry urged. “Love, run now and I’ll hold hi-

 “Not without you.”

 This didn’t surprise Harry, though it wearied and frightened him in equal amounts. He looked back at the Dark Lord through the dust and the darkness. Through the broken lift, which was still tearing itself apart with great metal groans, Voldemort was standing with his arms apart, seething.

 His left arm and right hand were no longer bleeding. Cauterized somehow. It was a mystery what had become of the pieces of him that Delphi had sliced off, now lost somewhere in the debris.

 Voldemort looked hatefully towards Delphi, who stood beside Harry, holding her stolen sword like it was her bat. Knee bent, hands barely trembling, her stare fixed and equally hateful. Like she honestly intended to fight Voldemort alongside her father. Like she could, if she had to.

 “Ah, the bastard,” Voldemort hissed, as he stood tall. “Finally. How like Dumbledore you are after all, Potter, having children fight for you in the most crucial moments.”

 Harry could have glared back at him, because that grated, as he cast around for options. The last of the dark spots were still dancing out of his vision. He had to kill Voldemort and get Delphi safely out of this mess. It was not an easy problem. It was a nightmare, really, and he could have choked on the terrified dread in him now.

 Instead, Harry quirked his eyebrows and smiled.

 “How like you to pretend you still have the upper hand even now, Tom.”

 Voldemort sneered at him and instead focused on Delphi. “Set down your sword, you silly girl, and I might be merciful to you,” he said. “Your mother was loyal to me, as you aren’t and know no better not to be. Cast aside your sword and spare yourself now, and in forgiveness I will show you power the likes of which others could not even dream.”

 It was a seemingly generous offer, especially to someone who had just seemingly maimed him.

 “Sure,” Delphi said, like the tremble wasn’t in her voice as well. “Let’s shake on it. Oh, wait.”

 If Harry wasn’t so terrified, he could have laughed.

 Voldemort didn’t.

 “Don’t be a fool, girl,” he snarled. “Better save your own life and join me.”

 “Never!” 

 “Have you no loyalty to your father, girl?” Voldemort demanded. “I gave you life.”

  Harry moved in front of his daughter protectively. 

 “You’re not my dad!”

 “Delphi, don’t do this,” Harry whispered. “Just run, love. Leave this to me.”

 “Ah, yes. Potter’s claim,” Voldemort called loudly, derisively. “You must know that this is a lie, dear child, to confuse your loyalties. To trick you into using your power against your own blood. Deep inside, you know they cannot love you as they claim, the snake in their midst. You are a tool to them. A burden. Why do you think they have kept us from meeting for so long?”

 “Maybe because you kill people, Tom?” Harry called back. “You do have a track record of being terrified of babies.”

 He would have mentioned Bellatrix, but he didn’t want to hurt Delphi worse than she had to be hurting already by mocking her late, unloving mother now. But, of course, he couldn’t stop Delphi from shouting around him or bringing Bellatrix Lestrange up herself.

 “You didn’t even want me! You didn’t give me life. My mother took it from you!”

 “Oh? Is that what they told you?” Voldemort questioned.

 Like Voldemort hadn’t been surprised to find out about Delphi’s existence like the rest of them. If Harry had had his way, if Harry had been quicker to keep the secrets in, then no one besides himself and a small circle of people would have ever found out the truth of Delphi’s complicated parentage. Much less Voldemort himself, who had mocked Harry for taking in a cuckoo ever since he had learned that Harry had taken Delphi in as his own daughter.

 Which was actually true, in a terribly accidental way. Harry’s blood had run in Voldemort’s veins ever since that ritual in the graveyard, now so long ago, that had given Tom Riddle a body again. Even if Harry cared about blood, Delphi was still his daughter.

 “That you have a habit of women getting the better of you, Tom?” Harry said mockingly. “There’s no need to pretend that you ever aspired to fatherhood. Why have a legacy when you intend to live forever? Or are you getting soft in your dying moments?”

 Voldemort’s remaining fingers twitched at that and… Harry wondered…

 It wasn’t actually the first time someone had managed to injure Voldemort, or even take off a limb. Harry wasn’t the only one to have taken hits. But to maim meant to deal permanent injury. And though he seemed maimed now, Voldemort had no issue in performing rituals to restore or otherwise alter his body, no matter the costly and often bloody ingredients required.

 But Harry couldn’t recall Voldemort ever taking a hit from the Sword of Gryffindor before.

 Nor anything quite like it.

 “Enough, Potter,” Voldemort snarled. “Girl, do not be foolish. He will give you nothing, once he has no more use of you. He can give you nothing. This is you final chance to turn aside from this fool’s doomed path and see my mercy. I am your father, and you cannot deny your blood.”

 It didn’t surprise Harry that Delphi wouldn’t stay behind him.

 “Why not?” Delphi sneered. “You did.”

 Voldemort was already scowling, but it deepened. His fingers twitched again.

 “You decided that your father was a useless piece of shit and you killed him,” Delphi continued, matter-of-factly, through the blood freckled across her face, and she raised the Sword of Gryffindor again. “Guess it runs in the blood.”

 “…So be it,” Voldemort said coldly.

 Harry heart leaped in his throat with terror as Voldemort stepped forward. The battle would begin again, it seemed, but now Harry’s daughter would be caught in the middle of it. Harry would be at a great disadvantage, trying to protect her. Voldemort’s fine control might be damaged by the loss of a hand and some fingers, but he was still powerful, frightfully enraged, and this battle had not been one of fine control from the beginning. Harry prepared to run.

 “If you think, girl,” Voldemort hissed, “that you are the first child of m-”

 It surprised Harry, then, that Voldemort wobbled. That the man-who-would-be-a-god spread his arms for balance and shook where he stood, violently, before he suddenly, gaspingly, sagged to the ground. Like a marionette whose strings had been cut. Just like that.

 And behind him, in the shadows, wielding Delphi’s Beater’s bat and looking very surprised and dusty, was Harry’s godchild. It didn’t surprise Harry that where his daughter was finding trouble, Teddy Lupin-Tonks wasn’t far away. That Teddy had apparently been trying to sneak up on Voldemort to attack him was a bit of a surprise and Harry could have screamed at them for it, but Teddy clearly hadn’t actually managed to attack. Teddy hadn’t been the one to make Voldemort stumble and fall.

 Harry wasn’t one to waste luck or moments of enemy vulnerability. He instantly conjured his own robes to bind Voldemort and leaped forward with a deadly curse in each hand.

 “Delphi, Ted, look away!” Harry shouted.

 He had thrown two curses as he leaped and both struck Voldemort before he landed. Voldemort had been struggling to push himself back up, but collapsed under Harry’s spells, lying prone on the floor with a mundane finality. Dusty, bloody, and gracelessly, terribly, painfully mortal. Not dead yet. Neither of Harry’s fatal curses had been immediately deadly.

 “Look away,” Harry repeated, unable to look away from Voldemort.

 The likelihood of this being an act and a trap was pathetic, but he could not take the chance. He watched every spasm across Voldemort’s body. Every settling of dust around him. Every slight twitch in the man’s two remaining fingers. Hope and fear were in Harry’s throat now, one and the same, as he took a step closer to his fallen enemy.

 For one shivering second of silence, Harry watched, but then he raised a trembling hand. One could never be certain about these things and he would not let Delphi take the blame of the final blow.

 “Avada Kedavra,” he said.

 The curse was small, compared to the ones that Voldemort had been throwing about earlier, but it had never been a spell that had needed to be large to do the trick.

 The bolt of green light struck Voldemort square on the back, leaving an eerie glow for a moment, which quickly faded away and left Harry standing in front of an empty shell. He watched, hand outstretched, and waited for the involuntarily twitching of a corpse to end. Then for any greater sign that he had somehow failed and Voldemort had fled from death once again.

 But no.

 The air seemed to have lightened, like an immense, invisible pressure had vanished. There wasn’t a single crackle or whisper of Voldemort’s terrible, deathly presence anymore. Voldemort’s white, scaled skin suddenly seemed duelled. His long limbs were splayed awkwardly.

 He was dead. Voldemort was finally dead. At long last.

 Harry allowed himself one sigh of sweet, exhausted relief. His shoulders sagged and his knees were ready to shake apart. He was so grateful that it was over that it felt he could fly apart or collapse with it. It was over. And it was somehow a surprise that it was over. After so long, some part of him had thought it would never end, and the surprised relief now was almost breath-taking.

 It shouldn’t have surprised him, but it did.

 His kids always did.

 

 ~ the great grounding

 

 Harry allowed himself that one sweet sigh of exhausted relief, but then he looked at up Teddy. His ten-year-old godchild who had either followed Delphi here or talked her into it in the first place. Who shouldn’t have been here and had – so it had felt – just taken years off Harry’s life when Voldemort had fallen away and Harry had seen Teddy behind him.

 Teddy was dressed for an adventure. With their own pair of bottle-end goggles and a ragged black cloak around them, and the purse that Harry could glimpse beneath the cloak. The sparkly pink trainers were a bit of an odd choice, but this was Teddy.

 Teddy had already lowered Delphi’s Beater’s bat, which she must have given them after she had stolen herself a sword. (And she had better have stolen herself that sword. If Harry found out later that Neville had given his daughter the Sword of Godric Gryffindor and sent her off on this mission with his blessing, then they were going to have words. Loud ones of the foul cussing variety. Merlin, someone would probably have to hold Harry back from breaking Neville’s fucking nose.)

 (Unfortunately for Delphi and Teddy, Harry already knew that Neville would never.)  

 “Okay, firstly,” Teddy said quickly, raising their free hand, “I’d like to point out that I have assisted in the death of the Dark Lord – those lifts were me and I helped launch Del who saved your life – and this is therefore a time for celebration, and not for grounding me for life. Secondly, before you ask, I’m perfectly alright. Thirdly…”

 Teddy then learned forward for a good, wary look at Voldemort’s corpse. “He is dead, right?”

 Harry took another glance at the corpse, just in case. Dead as a doornail.

 “Yes, Teddy,” Harry assured his godchild, unable to keep an almost disbelieving grin from breaking out over his face, no matter how furious he was. It was finally over for them. “He’s dead. Now come around him over here.” He then looked over at Delphi, who was still standing atop that platform. “And you come on down, please, love. Are you alright?”

 Behind him, Teddy whooped with joy. “YES!”

 Delphi, still holding the sword like it was her bat, peered down and made a stubborn face. “I’m fine. And I’m good here, Dad,” she called back.

 Well… Harry glanced at Voldemort’s corpse again. That was fair.

 Teddy, at least, listened to him. Partly. Teddy bounced around Voldemort’s body, then bounded up to join Delphi on the platform. It took them a few hops, but then Harry’s godchild was beaming at his frowning daughter, grabbing excitedly at her shoulders.

“He’s dead! He’s dead, Delphi! Oh, we gotta tell somebody! We gotta tell all the bodies! It’s over, it’s over, it’s over, it’s over, it’s over!” Teddy slung an arm around Delphi’s shoulders, then tugged her head under their armpit and tapped her on the head with the bat as she struggled. “Smile, Delphi! Smile for once! It’s over! We did it! It’s over, it’s over, it’s over!”

 “NOT WHEN SHE’S HOLDING THAT SWORD, TED,” Harry shouted, alarmed.

 “Oh, right,” Teddy quickly released Delphi, who straightened herself and glared fiercely at them.

 It wasn’t that Harry thought Delphi might stab his godchild. If she was holding her Beater’s bat instead of Teddy, he might be worried about her trying to give Teddy a whack, but he knew Delphi knew better than to wave a sword around among friends. Especially that sword. The smallest cut from that thing could – and usually would, eventually – be deadly.

 Which, Harry thought as he looked back at his fallen foe, was what had gotten Voldemort after all. The Heir of Slytherin falls to his heir wielding the Sword of Gryffindor – goblin silver imbued with the venom of Slytherin’s Monster.

 Ironic, Harry supposed.

 He waved his hand at the broken lift, summoning a curved piece of the cage to snap off and fly to him. He forced the thick wire into a sturdy cane and leaned on it with a sigh. It wasn’t quite as good as collapsing on a soft bed, but it added to the heady, exhausted relief in him.

 “Hey, Harry! You just won! For good!” Teddy shouted, waving spread palms through the air to illustrate the point. “Smile! Set a good example for your girl!”

 Harry couldn’t help but grin at Teddy, indulgently, and towards his frowning daughter. “Delphi doesn’t have to smile if she doesn’t want to, Ted,” he called back, and moved away from his fallen foe. “I think this’ll take a while to settle in in all of us. And not at the same speed for everyone, so slow down and let the rest of catch up, would you?”

 There was no love lost between Delphi and the monstrous man who had sired her, but Harry didn’t expect her to be ecstatic about it. Harry himself could have cried with happiness now, if he took that too-deep breath and let himself, and he didn’t blame Teddy for wanting to scream with joy for the death of a terrible man. But it was a sad thing for your lot in life to be glad for the death of your father, and there was no need to rub Delphi’s face in how badly she had been failed.

 Delphi’s frown looked suspicious now, staring down at Harry and the corpse behind him, like she still didn’t quite believe Voldemort was dead. Harry didn’t know if she’d looked away when he’d asked if of her and Teddy. He hoped so, but… Merlin, she was stubborn.

 “…Why did he stumble like that?” she demanded.

 “I don’t know,” Harry answered honestly.

 It could have been any of the spells thrown between them in their duel, held knowingly or unknowingly back, before belatedly felling the man. Delphi’s and Teddy’s attacks could have been the straw that had broken the beast’s back. Voldemort was a man in his eighties, deeply twisted by resurrection and countless dangerous rituals, and perhaps in this fight he had finally expended too much of his strength and felt it at just the wrong moment.

 But although they could never know for certain – not without an investigation than Harry had no desire to perform – some answers seemed more likely than others. Harry could guess.

 “It might have been the basilisk venom in the sword,” he said.

 The secrets of the Sword of Gryffindor had been kept as tightly under wraps as they could manage and, as far as Harry knew, Voldemort had simply never been told that the sword had absorbed the venom of a thousand-year-old basilisk. They hadn’t spread about how Neville had finally managed to kill Nagini. From what they’d heard of Voldemort’s rage at the news, Voldemort had cared more that it had happened at all than how they’d finally managed to deal a killing blow.

 While Voldemort had been talking – distracted by Delphi, the bastard daughter they had never let him meet before now – Harry had wondered if the venom was making its way through Voldemort’s veins. He hadn’t known how to kill Voldemort and save Delphi, so he had… hoped… that Voldemort might make the simple, ignorant mistake of monologuing. Either until it was too late entirely or until some effect that would give Harry an opportunity to escape. With all of Voldemort’s… strangeness… Harry couldn’t know if the venom would work at all, much less actually kill Voldemort given enough time, but it looked like it had at least given Harry his opportunity to deal a finishing blow.

 It seemed that Harry had been saved and Voldemort finally killed by an eleven-year-old girl with a stolen sword. She would be turning twelve in less than a month, but still. It might have been embarrassing, if Harry wasn’t terribly grateful it was over and hadn’t been so terrified for her.

 Merlin, he was furious with these two.

 Teddy grinned at Delphi, like they were about to congratulate her for killing a man. At the very least, for assisting invaluably in the death of a man. But Teddy seemed to catch Harry’s warning look before they could say anything, and then closed their mouth again without doing that. Teddy just kept beaming at Delphi instead, still jittering with excitement and joy, even in the face of her frowning uncertainty.

 There would be time to talk, thankfully. Time to yell at them and thank them and yell at them again. Time to talk both Teddy and Delphi through this terrible fight and their roles in it. Sometime when they were all ready for it. Somewhere far away from here.

 “We should leave,” Delphi said.

 I want to leave, Harry’s daughter didn’t say. I don’t want to be here anymore.

 “We can leave!” Teddy corrected delightedly. “The Sealing’s broken, Del, we can go anywhere we want to go! The world is ours!” They spun, arms spread, and then pointed the Beater’s bat in hand at Harry. “Paris! Harry, I want to go to Paris!”

 Harry smiled fondly. “Paris, huh?”

 He didn’t want to be here either anymore.

 “The City of Lights, Harry! All the way from the top of the Eiffel Tower!”

 “What did I say about slowing down?”

 “Never, Harry! You gotta keep moving, right? Never stop moving! Well, we’re free now and I’m never going to stop moving again! Paris! Madrid! Berlin! Beijing! Tokyo! Sydney! Sayonara and auf widesehen, Harry” Teddy lifted the bat like a torch and shouted to the ceiling, so that the sound echoed through the depths of the Once-Ministry, “I’LL SEND YOU A POSTCARD FROM NEW YORK CITY!”

 “- CITY!”

 “- city!”

 Harry laughed, shaking his head. Oh, he wanted to see the world, but not so badly as he wanted a little peace first. To get them all out of here. His knees were fit to shake out from under him. Shaking his head became an instead regret, with an overdue headache forming.

 “Ah, slow down, Ted,” he said. “You’re going to leave your poor, slow –”

 Teddy scoffed loudly.

 “- old -”

 “Harry!” Teddy complained, as Delphi rolled her eyes.

 “- white-haired -”

 “You’re not that old, old man!” Delphi said.

 “- wizened -”

 “You don’t even have wrinkles!” Teddy complained.

 “- godfather behind you,” Harry finished wryly. “And I do too have wrinkles, look.” He scowled and pointed at his own face, leaning heavily on the cane he had made for himself. “I even named them. This one is Teddy. And this one is Delphi.”

 Both of his children frowned down at him, unamused.

 Well, good, he wasn’t amused by them either, even if he was elated it was over.

 Teddy looked at Delphi again. “Well, he’s useless. How about you, Delphi? Where do you plan on going?” They threw the Beater’s bat over their shoulder in consideration. “I’ve always wanted to go somewhere hot – like Italy or Greece in summer, or just skip it on down to Egypt and everywhere else Bill talks about. But then there’s penguins, right? Antarctica! The tip of the world! Penguins!”

 “I just want to go home,” Delphi snapped, her shoulders slumped, her grip tight on her stolen sword. Then she realized what she’d said – home, a thing she’d never had, a thing Harry had never truly been able to give her to his satisfaction – and curled further in on herself.

 Teddy scowled at Delphi’s uncooperativeness at first, but then Teddy softened. Then Teddy visibly gaped as they finally realized, “Delphi, you have blood on you face! Is that his blood?”

 Delphi looked away from Teddy, but Teddy grabbed her chin and lifted the ragged black cloak they were wearing to forcibly wipe the blood off. Delphi looked even unhappier about being pawed at, but uncharacteristically put up with it in silence. For a few seconds, at least, before she shoved Teddy off and furiously wiped at her face herself with her sleeve.

 “Del, come on, you missed a spot. Just let me-”

 “We definitely leave this dump behind,” Harry interrupted, before bickering could break out. “If the two of you don’t mind, I’d like to go see Hannah or Neville. I don’t think I can stand for much longer,” he admitted.

 This got Delphi and Teddy’s attention.

 “What?” Teddy croaked.

 “Magical exhaustion, a bit of blood loss, take your pick,” Harry sighed. “It’s not serious, but I think I’m going to sleep for a week now, so I better find a bed so I can do that. We can have a discussion of how grounded you two are once I’ve woken up.”

 “Argh… fine,” Teddy grumbled.

 “So, we make sure that doesn’t happen,” Delphi said simply, and cracked a small smile when Harry raised his eyebrows at her. It might’ve been in slight poor taste, but that was Delphi’s humour, and Harry had little room to talk.

 Hassp hissssss, came a curious sound.

 Harry stiffened immediately. Teddy paused, from where they’d been about to jump back down, and Delphi raised her stolen sword slightly. Harry’s head lifted, ear cocked to listen for that quiet hiss.

 “Harry, what’s that?” Teddy said.

 It had itched a bit, to turn his back on Voldemort like this. He was relatively certain that Voldemort’s corpse wasn’t about to get up and have another go at him, but the instincts had still itched. When Harry turned to look again at the corpse, it hadn’t moved, which meant…

 Gloop glop, came a new sound, louder and gurgling.

 Harry looked farther around him, around the ruins of the Once-Ministry’s lower floors, and his eyes settled on a fallen, lonesome, stall-like piece of building. It looked rather like a stray storage closet. Just a dozen metres or so behind Voldemort’s corpse. Harry turned completely, to stand firmly between it and Delphi and Teddy.

 Many pieces of the Ministry had reacted badly or unexpectedly to Harry’s duel with Voldemort. When magic clashed, the results could be dangerous. This may have only looked like a storage closet, but… the door was bulging ominously. Silver mist poured out the cracks at the top, while green slime dripped out the cracks at the bottom. There was a ticking noise, coming from inside, and it was getting louder.

 Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, it went.

 “Dad?” Delphi said.

 “Harry?” Teddy called nervously. “Harry, I think you’d better g-”

 The ticking storage closet exploded.

 The storage closet’s door burst open with a bang and suddenly Harry Potter disappeared under an explosion of ticking clocks, broken glass, clocks, green slime, and more clocks. White mist burst out in a great cloud, streaming out of every crack in the massive wave of objects, and it carried away small highlights of golden dust as an Undetectable Extension Charm failed… and extended very, very quickly.

 

~ there’s no place like home

 

 The Once-Ministry’s bottom-floor vaults were dark, cavernous, and filled almost to the brim with things and stuff. The ceiling had fallen in. With it, a mountainous pile of slime-covered clocks and glass had dropped into the room full of artefacts. It had made a half-demolished junkyard maze.

 It was a lifeless space, but not a still one. Bent antiques creaked and dented artefacts groaned under the crushing rubble and debris. The clocks still kept up a slow, ragged tick tock even though most of them were barely clinging to any kind of functionality, as the intruding green-slimed artefacts oozed through the vaults. Every moment, something new fell over into the steaming, silvery mist threaded with gold, which curved dangerously through the teetering stacks.

 A small figure crawled out of the wreckage, coughing out sparkling dust. They were half-invisible, drowning in a shimmering cloak that they kept throwing aside so they come move. From thin air, they seemed to pull a flashing silver sword and they stabbed it into a peeling globe. They pushed unruly black hair out of their face and used the sword to stagger to their feet.

 Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock…

 Delphi looked up and around the great, dark, shifting room. She coughed again, eyes watering behind her goggles, and then had to push her hair out of her face again. Her hair-tie had apparently snapped. She scowled, swallowed her next cough, and adjusted the settings on her goggles to peer through the darkness around her.

 She couldn’t see Harry. Nor even Teddy, who had been standing just next to her.

 Across the vast room, a towering stack of rubble, glass, and clocks tumbled over. Delphi could hear the glass shattering into even tinier pieces, the clocks clanging in pained objection, and the crash of heavy rock. She could see the great cloud of silver mist that was sent up, sparkling that mysterious gold in the poor light. Her throat tickled just looking at it and she finally spat out her cough, and her spit on the wardrobe under her boot… well… that sparkled mysteriously gold too.

 It frightened her, but Delphi was determined not to care. She could care later, when she had found her god-sibling and her father, and they were all a long way from here. She had decided the same thing, looking at Voldemort’s corpse. She could care later, if she had to, when she was as far away from all this as she could be.

 She shuddered at the throat of finding Voldemort’s corpse in this and pulled the sword free. She felt better, holding the sword, even though it was so very sharp and gleamed so dangerously. Her heart was in her itching throat, but she wasn’t empty-handed.

 Teddy had better not have lost her bat.

 Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock…

 Delphi tested the wardrobe under her boots, then carefully limped forward, her lips pressed together. Her knees hurt from her hard landing earlier, when she’d mostly managed to cut off Voldemort’s hands in an effort to save her father’s life. Just thinking about it almost made her want to laugh. It had been so stupid, so quick, and he’d looked so angry about it.  

 Delphi swung the sword again, through the sparkling mist, in a small pump of triumph.

 So, that had been Voldemort.

 Her father. Kind of.

 He’d been even scarier than she had imagined… and yet… also just a man. Just another monster. Easily angered and easily arrogant and easily cruel. A selfish bastard with too much power, enough to make the shadows shake with it, and no good sense of anything except for how terrifying he was. Harry had been right about him down to the last hiss and scale.

 After so long, it seemed unlikely that he would be dead just like that. But he was.

 And yet… Delphi didn’t think he’d die in her mind just like that. She could still see those red eyes fixed on her, still hear the sneer in his voice as he called her bastard, and still remember the dread down her veins as he’d asked her to join him. She could still feel the anger, freshly risen again, at the thought that he could have seen any similarity between them. At his gall in pretending that he had wanted her, right after he’d named her bastard and before he’d resolved to cull her.

 Delphi didn’t know how to feel about this confirmation that Voldemort had been everything that Harry – her real father, her dad – had said he was. It was… somehow both good and not good to be right. Delphi hadn’t harboured any silly hopes, but… she grimaced even so.

 Harry had lived. That had been the important thing, and it was the important thing now. She could care later about the rest, if she had to. Delphi’s real father was alive. After all that, he had to be. After all Harry and Teddy had done for her, they both had to be alive. She needed them to be. She would find them and make sure they both made it out alive, because there was no going home without them.

 Not when they were her home.

 Delphi lifted her hand, squinted through the darkness. “Homenum Revelio.”

 Immediately, two signatures revealed themselves and she sighed with relief – it had to be them, unless someone else had followed them. Which signature was who, she didn’t know, but one signature was moving towards the still other. She limped determinedly forward to join them.

 Teddy had the Portkeys out of here. She should’ve made them give her one.

 A thunderous crack sounded from far above. Delphi looked up, through the swirling silver mist and glittering gold dust, towards the dark and distant ceiling. The far-off upper levels of the Once-Ministry were beyond her sight, so she turned a switch on her goggles to bring it closer. Then she gasped, because the far-off ceiling was straining down, the restraining wards holding up the higher floors were fracturing, and it was all going to fall. 

 It was all going to come down on them.  

 Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock…

 Crack!

 Delphi ran, feeling like the thunder of the Once-Ministry’s slow, unstoppable collapse was swiping at her heels. Her father’s cloak fluttered like wings around her as she flew.

 Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock…

 Over a tall bookshelf she bounded, over bathtubs and broomsticks and birdcages. A statue tried to swipe at her cloak and she swung her stolen sword at it wildly, before she slid down a long tapestry and launched herself off a dangerously tilting clock the size of a desk. It smashed into the floor behind her. Delphi cut through the silvery mist, no care for what wreckage she left behind her, the golden dust collecting on her as she went.

 Cr-crack!

 The earth rumbling, shaking, shattering, far above her head. Getting closer.

 Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock…

 Ahead of her, Delphi heard a loud crash and a scream.

 Crack! Cr-crack…!

 She screamed back, “TEDDY!”

 The two signatures ahead of her had met up, but they were falling. They didn’t fall far, just enough to send Delphi’s heart falling to her stomach, and her knees screaming in protest as she launched herself into the air again in panic. Over a sofa and an amphora and a wildly spinning astrolabe all covered in slime. She landed on a lamppost and looked down.

 Below her was her father and god-sibling, in a valley of silver mist, glittering gold dust, and an eerie-blue glow. Harry was lying unconscious in a broken shower stall, half-full with golden sand that was becoming the glittering dust around them, trickling down and up and in every direction. Teddy was at her father’s side, sneezing, and at Teddy’s side was a great, strange cup that was providing the eerie, whispering, blue light that was drowning out the darkness. It looked like a trophy of some kind.  

 Promises… promises…

 It looked like a trap to Delphi – something was wrong about it, it made the air itch – but Teddy looked up at her.

 “DELPHI!” Teddy cried relievedly. “DELPHI, HURRY, WE HAVE TO GO!”

 Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock…

 It was the only way out. The only way home.

 CRACK…!

 Delphi didn’t even think. She jumped, at the same time that the thundering upper floors of the Once-Ministry finally gave out above her. Her knees gave out from under her as she landed, in this sea of abandoned and dangerous things, and she gave a shriek of pain.

 “Delphi!” Teddy shouted.

 Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock…  

“Just get us out of here!” Delphi shouted back, as she grabbed tightly onto her father’s arm, the sword tight in her other hand. She keened in her next breath. “Teddy, just get us out of here!”  

 Teddy grabbed Harry’s other arm tightly, then lunged away as she coughed. Delphi saw her god-sibling reaching for the eerie blue cup, through the golden dust surrounding them, where some of Teddy’s marbles were sitting like the last few drops of wine in a goblet. With the collapsing Once-Ministry roaring down on them, Teddy seized them up in a tight fist and gasped, “Safe place!”

 And with a painful tug, the world yanked away.

 Tic-