“You’re sure? They did it?”
“Yes, Professor. Absolutely sure. I—I saw the look on her face before the spell took hold. She achieved exactly what she wanted to.” Sirius Black broke into harsh sobs as he stood in the shell of the ruined house, his hands wrapped around his head. “I was too late. I failed them.”
“You came as soon as you heard the call.” Albus Dumbledore touched Sirius’s shoulder and stepped away, shaking his head as he looked at the body sprawled on the ground in front of him. James Potter had died as he’d lived, bravely, defying the Dark. He’d taken five Death Eaters with him, even after half the house fell in. Albus closed his eyes and stood there until the pressure of tears dimmed behind them. “Young Harry is safe?’
“I couldn’t see where he went at the other end of the spell.” Sirius managed to get himself under control with a massive effort that choked down more pain than Albus knew he could ever understand. “Do you think—”
“She would have had to use blood to control it. That has to mean in the Muggle world, with her Muggle relatives.”
“Then—we have to go get him back! I’ve met Petunia. Who knows what she’s going to do to Harry?”
Albus reached out and squeezed Sirius’s shoulder, hard, making the young man pay attention to him. “Do not think that way, Sirius. The Muggle world is infinitely safer for Harry than the wizarding world at the moment, and almost none of the Death Eaters know how to navigate it. They would draw the attention of Muggle law enforcement wherever they went. And do you want to draw attention to Petunia by seeking her out?”
“Who would follow me?” Then Sirius’s face altered terribly. “The traitor.”
“Yes.” Albus glanced at the other body lying in the wreckage. They had all been certain Peter Pettigrew was the traitor; they had orchestrated the conversations they allowed him to overhear and what missions he went on for months. And then tonight he had died, fighting beside James, and with no Dark Mark on his arm.
“There is another reason to leave Harry there,” Albus continued, drawing Sirius’s blank, grieving gaze from Peter and James. “Voldemort will do everything he can to cut connections between the Muggle and the wizarding worlds. If he does eventually discover Harry’s hiding place, or Harry’s magic becomes unmistakable and needs to be trained, it would be far better to have him raised thinking of Muggles as human beings, not insects to be trampled by a crushing boot.”
Sirius nodded slowly, although he wrinkled his nose like a dog faced with a strong smell. “I wonder if Petunia will actually treat him like a human being.”
“She once wanted to attend Hogwarts.” Albus felt the small regret catch for a moment against his throat, but he swallowed it. He had many bigger griefs to swallow now. “She will understand what it means to be deprived of the magical world.”
Sirius sighed. “And I suppose we have to leave before any more Death Eaters get here.”
Albus inclined his head. “But first we must hide the evidence.” His wand rose, and he began to cast the spell that would reduce the Potter house to ashes.
“Wait! Peter and James. Can’t we—”
Albus glanced sideways. “You know why we cannot, Sirius. Anyone who cared to dig up the graves would uncover evidence we cannot afford for them to have.”
“Oh. So you’re going to spread the story that everyone died here?”
Albus nodded. “Yes. That would be the best protection of all for Harry, of course, if they thought him dead.”
Sirius sighed, but said, “Okay. Just let me get a few things out of the house. Things James would have wanted me to save. Maybe I’ll get to give them to Harry someday.” He vanished into the house, and Albus heard the sound of furniture shifting.
Albus took the time to say farewell to two of his old students, and silently beg Peter’s pardon for having wronged him. Sirius was out of the house in several minutes, his old trunk floating behind him.
The cracks of Apparition sounded, and made it clear that it was more than time to go. Albus gripped Sirius’s sleeve and ignited the house in the same moment. They Apparated in the moment after.
They might have lost for now, but Albus was determined to live to be a sting in Voldemort’s hide as long as he might.
Voldemort stood at a distance from the ruins of the house, his wand carefully tracing spirals and corkscrews in the air. His Death Eaters surrounded him with silver masks pulled over their faces. The masks did not matter. Voldemort knew every one of them, knew their breathing and their stances and what secrets to use as their reins.
The blacked bones pulled free of the ruins and floated towards him. Voldemort assembled the skulls, boiled artificially free of hair and flesh by his necromancy, and then closed his eyes and sent his spirit ranging along paths that few wizards had ever walked.
It did not take long. Even without the Resurrection Stone shining on his finger, Voldemort could have found spirits lingering nearby after their violent deaths. He pulled them back into their skulls, and waited patiently as they screamed and the skulls vibrated, through the first moments of disorientation the dead always had.
“You will tell me your names.” It was important to be commanding with the newly deceased, who had far more free will than most Inferi.
The skulls continued to shake in rings for a moment. Voldemort imposed his will on them again, this time bringing it down like an invisible whip. A crack sprouted through the smaller skull. That was enough to cow the spirit inside.
“Peter Pettigrew.” The name was said with a sniffling whine. Voldemort wrinkled his nose. He could imagine the kind of man this one would have been in life. Too cowardly to stay loyal to a principle, he would require a person.
“James Potter,” said the other, in an echoing voice that made it sound as if he was fighting off the impulse of the spell even as he succumbed.
Voldemort touched his fingers to his lips. It was not like Dumbledore to leave two such prizes behind, which meant this might be a trap. “You will tell me the sequence of events that happened when my Death Eaters came to the house.”
There was a little more resistance from Potter’s spirit, but Pettigrew’s had already begun to speak, his voice slipping into a monotone that showed the memories and loyalties of life were already slipping away from him. “I came to the house because James thought I was a traitor. He was going to interrogate me, subtly, and see if I had passed on information he had fed me before to the Death Eaters. But the attack came before he could finish the interrogation.”
“One of the Death Eaters said something about my son.” Potter’s voice was becoming a monotone now, too.
Voldemort did not react outwardly, but he made mental notes. He had an execution to order tonight, then, for not knowing how to keep one’s mouth shut. “Explain to me how many of them you killed, and their names.”
“The only one I recognized was Garrett Rosier.” Potter sounded now as if he had been dead for years. “I killed him by piercing him through the eyes with a piece of a broken vase…”
Voldemort listened to the rest of the recitation of the battle, which was, in the end, rather dry hearing. Pettigrew and Potter hadn’t known most of their attackers. They hadn’t caused the fire. They didn’t know who had. They didn’t know whether any of the Death Eaters who had come with the original attackers had escaped, either.
Voldemort sighed and gestured with his wand when the answers to his questions had turned to mere negative monosyllables. In seconds, the skulls had crumbled into black dust. He held out one of the crystal potions vials that he often carried with him, and the dust poured into it. Then he capped it and put it back into his pocket, deep in thought.
There was little he had to do tonight, beyond ordering the execution. He wondered for a moment whether it was worthwhile to pursue the person who had set the fire—who was probably Albus, of course—or clear the rubble to find out whether any other usable bodies had survived.
In the end, he decided not to. The attacks tonight had broken the back of Albus’s Order. Voldemort had received the reports from everyone except the Death Eaters who had been here, and out of sixty Order members, fifty-six were dead. Voldemort was not lucky or foolish enough to believe Albus would be among them any time soon.
But the war had ended tonight. He had matters of administration to organize.
Spreading a warning to look out for the Potter child, whom he did not believe had died in the collapse of the house, would be enough.
With a bump and a shiver, a baby wrapped in a thick, warm blanket landed on the steps of a Muggle home. The baby opened his eyes and began to fuss. For a moment, someone bent over him and a hand touched his forehead.
“This is all we can do,” said a voice so thick with sadness that the baby stopped crying as if he didn’t want to add to it. “It seems such a stupid thing. So small.” For a long moment, the voice paused as if someone else was going to speak, but that was impossible, given what had happened that night. And then the hand was gone, and the voice, faded away, never to return to that place.
Petunia Dursley screamed when she found him in the morning.