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into the arena with your head held high

Chapter Text

ACT I: THE MIDNIGHT DUEL

the intruder in the Minister's office  a proposal for the perfect disguise  undesirable number one  are you ready?  the glass dragon  the Unsealing  ~  so promised and whispered the cup in the vault  ~the Ministry is falling  ~  a galleon for the Golden Boy's thoughts?  ~  tick trickle tock  ~  going down?  ~  hit the floor with a mundane finality  ~  take me to the safe place where everything is fine  ~

 

PART ONE

April 16th, 2009

 

~ the intruder in the Minister's office

 

The Minister of Magic's Office was large, empty, and dark. There was little to it besides a giant desk in the centre of the circular space and enormous windows that stretched from floor to ceiling, letting the bright moonlight dimply haunt the shadowy room.

It was a sparse space, but not a clean one. Papers and shredded books were strewn across the filthy marble floor, and the giant desk had clearly seen days as a curse shield from the magical burns that covered it along with the entire room. This scorched office had not been in the use of a Minister of Magic for many years, and had likely been abandoned for just as long.

A figure drifted past one of the windows, only noticeable in how it made a shadow against the moonlight on the floor and temporarily blocked out some stars in a black silhouette.

On a night eleven years ago, the light pollution of London would have meant that there were few stars to block if any, but now there seemed to be more stars than could be counted. They twinkled brightly all over the sky, with not a helicopter or satellite in sight. Light pollution and such things had not been a problem in Great Britain for many years now. London was dark, completely dark, and the stars shined for it.

So... a moving, person-shaped lack of them was very curious.

The shadowy figure landed silently on the sill of the last window of the row, their overflowing, ragged, black robes trailing behind them. Then, cautiously, small and pale hands stretched out from within the cloak to place themselves flat on the window pane. A minute later, the glass peeled inwards with a silent shudder to let the figure step through, carrying a breath of crisp, cold air with them, before it folded seamlessly back into place.

As the intruder stepped inside the abandoned office, up next to battered desk, a disturbingly interesting and interestingly disturbing fact was made clear: this figure was of very small height. They were far too small to be an adult and not quite short enough to be a goblin, which weren't really about nowadays anyway. Their long, black robe trailed behind them like the train of a dress and their hood fell too far on their face, like a child playing in an adult's clothing.

Footsteps sounded in the distance and the figure startled slightly, then cocked their hooded head to listen as someone drew nearer the not-so-empty office. The hurried sound echoed throughout the building, easy to hear in the soundless night. London was... well, more or less as quiet as it was dark these days, and the owner of the footsteps had foolishly not thought to cast any Silencing Charms to disguise their approach.

The intruder nodded to themselves and then, with a terrible tremble, they began to grow. Taller and taller they grew, from the height of a child to that of a being over six feet tall. Their body did not fill out at all, instead simply elongating, becoming almost skeletal. Under the hood, the figure's skin paled drastically and their mouth became lipless, then twisted into a cruel sneer as the office door was flung open with a bang.

An adult man of average height and build burst into the room, a white, skull-shaped mask covering his face. He was dressed all in black, and his hands glowed with eerie purple and red lights – spells – that crackled as they were thrown towards the office's intruder.

The intruder stepped aside languidly, letting the dangerous curses fly past and strike the wall behind, leaving large scorch marks with bright spots like dying embers. As the intruder gracefully dodged, they also removed their hood to show a bone-white and inhuman face with glowing red eyes.

The curse-throwing man with the skull-mask, hands already glowing with new spells of fizzling blue and infectious-looking green, paused. The curses instantly dissipated from his fingers and his pose changed from one of aggression to one of surprise. If his face had been visible, it surely would have been stark with shock and fear, perhaps even the same colour as his mask.

“M-m-my-y... my L-Lo-” he stammered, lowering his head and raising his hands in a subservient gesture of surrender and self-protection. But before he could finish his begging phrase -

“Stupefy!”

- he was struck to the ground with a popping swirl of red light and fell instantly to the ground.

The intruder lowered one of their smoking hands and the face of Lord Voldemort sneered at the unconscious Death Eater. Then the Dark Lord walked towards the defeated man, changing as he moved, growing smaller and younger and much more human-looking. Red eyes turned to green, blue hair sprouted from their head like dandelion fuzz, and the face of an androgynous child of perhaps ten years looked down at their Stunned foe.

“You Munchers really are dumb as rocks,” the kid said, unimpressed, sticking out a foot to wave it over the unconscious man's mask. “How do you not notice your Dark Lord wearing bright pink trainers? Honestly. They're glittery.

With a few short waves of the child's tiny hands and a bit of muttering, the Death Eater was gagged and bound with thick, grey ropes that had sprung up from the floor. Then the child reached into their ragged, black robes, rummaged about in the vicinity of their hip, and pulled out a lumpy drawstring bag that they opened with deft care.

Inside this bag were a great many marbles, all about the size of a bouncy-ball and extremely decorative, probably taken from an abandoned non-magical toy store. The child reached into the bag and plucked one of the marbles from the top, a pink one with purple flecks, which they placed on the Death Eater's chest.

No-expenses vacation,” they mumbled.

The bound man disappeared with a swirl of blue light and a small pop, off to places unknown.

After an unimpressed harrumph, the child moved to put the bag away, but they paused mid-motion and then opened the drawstring bag again to pull out a second marble. They stared at the tiny, translucent sphere for a few silent moments. It would be so very easy to whisper any number of words and be whisked away from this mausoleum-like ruin.

With one phrase, they could follow the Death Eater on the no-expenses vacation to a rather undesirable destination. And with several other phrases, they could return to any number of places that were much more familiar and much, much safer than this place was about to be.

Just a couple, simple words would do it... but... no.

The child made an indignant noise and the marble was quickly dropped back into the bag, the bag's string was pulled, and then bag itself was tucked away back wherever it came from. Then, before they could change their mind, the child pulled their ragged hood back up and went with swaggering steps to the office's door, which would lead to the rest of the Ministry of Magic.

At least, what used to be the Ministry of Magic. The building hadn't really been much of anything these past few years beyond one of Voldemort's largest and most dangerous strongholds. Now, with the planned assaults that the child knew were taking place, it soon wouldn't even be that anymore.

They murmured a brief spell and rose two feet in the air, so that only the ragged ends of their black robes trailed on the floor now. Then, with a further bit of concentration and more hand movements and murmured words, a freezing chill overtook the air around them and they were exuding a very effective feeling of abject misery and woe.

Taking several deep breaths, each more rattling than the last, the child raised their hands, which had elongated again. Their fingers were now greyish, bony, and scabbed.

“Rawr,” they said ominously. “Fear me and all despair, for I am a Dementor! OooOOOooo. I will kiss you and EAT YOUR SOUL!

Since the room was empty, no one replied or reacted. In the awkward silence afterwards, the child seemed to come to a realization, bobbling above the floor. They slapped a skeletal hand against their hooded forehead and groaned at themselves.

“What am I doing? Dementors don't talk. Right. Easy character. Channel inner stalker-ghost.”

Then they reached for the handle, opened the door, and floated into the hallway.

 

~ a proposal for the perfect disguise

 

The best thing about impersonating a Dementor was that nobody particularly cared to stick around and find out if the Dementor was real or not. Even the aura of cold and despair was enough to send people running for their lives sometimes. It didn't really matter that Dementors were almost completely extinct nowadays (Thank you, Mister Light Saviour!), the mere memory of them was enough for people to be scared away – especially so since the Sealing.

Even the Death Eaters and other Dark things were terrified of them, and therefore typically didn't question why a Dementor might be floating around Dark-held areas. Smaller and with a weaker presence, most would assume the impersonator was just a lower or young one that managed to survive the Light's extermination and counted themselves lucky it wasn't an elder or an entire Horde. Dementors were loyal to Voldemort and always had been, but they were still dangerous to anyone and difficult to control. Most Death Eaters and Dark Beings went by the hopeful creed that if they didn't bother a Dementor, the Dementor wouldn't bother them.

So with a mistreated bedsheet (black), some basic scent-repressing spells, a small Self-Levitation Charm, a Cooling Charm casting as a field, and Anti-Cheering Charm also cast as a field... well, the cunning individual pretty much had themselves an instant Dementor disguise that most people didn't want to look at at all, much less inspect for genuineness.

It was incredibly useful for sneaking around.

The Fake-Dementor encountered two other Death Eaters in the upper levels of the Once-Ministry – the first ignored them completely and the second was easily taken out by a surprise attack with a Portkey. The child floated unheeded all the rest of the way into a hallway of Ministry offices that overlooked the Atrium, a place that the child had only previously seen in memories.

The Atrium, as far as the child could see, was just as battle-worn as the Minister's Office. Spell scorches, rubble, and discarded flyers littered the ruined entrance hall. Even the Magic is Might statue, once a pure, white marble, was now blackened and severely melted in most places – it made the twisted forms of screaming people and their wand-wielding conquerors look even more sinister and terrible.

It really is even more horrible in person, the child decided with a hidden grimace.

Quietly, as to prevent any echoes through the empty Once-Ministry, the child settled down in one of the offices overlooking the Atrium. They cancelled all the spells around them, stepping back onto solid ground and letting the faked Dementor presence fade away. Then they started waving their hands and muttering, setting up some basic Undetectable protection spells for safety.

It took a few minutes, but once that was done, they immediately pulled the ragged cloak over their head with a sigh of relief and discarded it onto the floor of the office. Underneath, along with their glittery, pink trainers, they had a neat little outfit of black trousers and a worn Weird Sisters t-shirt that was much too large for them, which was belted by a small satchel purse. The small purse grudgingly unwrapped itself from their waist and flopped on top of the cloak, opening its flap to let the child rummage around inside. The child pulled out a pair of large, bottle-end-like goggles with a number of dials and switches around the rims, something that shouldn't rightly have fit inside the small purse.

Goggles in hand, the child flicked up their free arm to check a battered, gold wristwatch. Upon inspection, it was seen that the shorter of the crooked hands was slowly approaching midnight.

Good. They were on time. It hadn't started yet.

 

~ undesirable number one

 

About ten minutes later, an explosive sound echoed in the distance, presumably somewhere out in darkened London. Then, over the course of the next ten minutes, more explosions sounded like sporadic fireworks, each slightly closer than the one before.

In response, the occasional group of people in black cloaks and white masks sprinted through the Atrium. They exited through the Floo Chimneys in bursts of green flame, returning the same way with gaping wounds, covered in painful hexes and horrible curses. One Death Eater returned in a column of emerald flame only to fall over dead where they stood, a toxic-looking, purple curse chewing away at their back.

Half-an-hour after the child settled in their office lookout, there were nine Dark Followers gathered in the Atrium, limping or missing limbs entirely, shouting and panicking after returning from wherever they'd gone. From the child's count, with the aid of their goggles, four of them were relatively human Death Eaters and the rest were creatures – they guessed three wolves and two elementals by the magical auras and body-heat.

In a swirl of fire, a final Death Eater stumbled through one of the many Floo Chimneys, with a horrific gash on one leg and their entire upper body breaking out with glowing, green boils. This last Death Eater took five stuttering steps towards their fellows, and then the still-glowing Floo Chimney behind them erupted with a fiery explosion that swallowed the staggering Death Eater whole.

The Death Eater screamed as they disappeared under the churning, toxic-green flames in front of their comrades, who could only stare with horror as they watched an infamous, thin figure cut effortlessly through the fire and step out of the sooty embers into the Atrium with a near saunter. As the flames died around him, there was no sign of the Death Eater, and many of Dark Followers stumbled back in fear and recognition entwined.

The newcomer's well-known, uncontrollable black hair and bright green eyes marked him almost as well as the viciously red, lightning-bolt scar on his forehead. His face had graced wanted posters across the country for years, with and without the signature glasses that he no longer wore, and his reputation proceeded him greatly.

One of the Death Eaters, either very brave or very stupid, stepped forward while their comrades cowered. They had a gash across their chest and their hands were giving off yellow and blue sparks, and they didn't seem to care that the black-haired man regarded them with a relaxed pose and an almost hateful expression.

“Undesirable Number One,” the lead Death Eater snarled, and then they twisted their black-clothed body in an attack that caused a cord of yellow lightning to explode from their hand. Like a circling whip, the rope of energy lashed towards the newcomer's side.

Harry Potter raised a hand and the lightning whip stopped against an invisible carrier before it could strike his ribs, then, with a flick of his fingers, the hanging whip bolted straight back at the Death Eater like a gunshot. It followed itself back to the caster and consumed the hand holding the end of it, overtaking their entire arm with spiking sparks.

The Death Eater shrieked, and the others cowered back farther from this display. Harry Potter merely lowered his hand and proceeded to dust soot off his black, Dragonscale outfit, and then fixed the gathered Dark Followers with a forced smile.

“You didn't think that would work again, now did you, Suzanne?” Harry Potter asked conversationally, making a tutting sound and pushing up a sleeve slightly to show the flowery scar pattern on his forearm. “Believe me, your little lightning whip trick was a nasty surprise at first, but times change fast these days, and you've got to do better than that to keep up.”

The Death Eater's lightning-struck arm dropped uselessly to their side, and their other one reached up to pull off their white mask. They angrily threw it aside, making it clatter on the Atrium floor and uncovering the scarred and sneering face of a once-pretty middle-aged woman. She pointed her working fingers at the most wanted man in what remained of Great Britain.

“The Dark Lord is coming, Unbeliever!” the Death Eater promised darkly. “The Dark Lord know of this and is coming for you and all your Unfaithful! His wrath will bring your end!”

Harry Potter rolled his eyes. “Preach that to someone who gives a shit.”

Then the Light Saviour flexed his fingers and regarded the gathered Dark Followers with a knowing look. Most of them stepped back, ready to flee despite their injuries, but one or two of them snarled at him. But, knowing wolves as the child did, that was probably more of a fear response than agreement with the woman's worshipful words about their Lord.

“Face it,” Harry Potter informed them coldly. “You lot are just the small fish, here to stall me before the big shark gets here. I'm not leaving until he gets here, so if you want to live, leave now.

The Dark Followers stared back at the man who had once been the Boy-Who-Lived, terrified and unsure or outraged and deeply insulted. After a few long seconds, one of the injured Death Eaters, a thin witch by the figure, sprinted for one of the Floo Chimneys and disappeared in a burst of green flames. The others stared in surprise and horror, missing the second Death Eater, a heavyset man, who sprinted for another Floo Chimney on the opposite side. The lead Death Eater only realized when the Floo flames whisked him away with a whumph sound, but her thrown curse only scorched the wall after he was gone.

“Cowards!” she spat. “Untrue to our Lord! They will regret deserting the Darkness!”

While the witch ranted, three more of the Dark Followers sprinted away, disappearing by running into the depths of the Once-Ministry or being swallowed by the green Floo flames. Their desertion left Harry Potter standing alone against the lightning-struck witch, two wolves, and a final Death Eater.

“Last chance,” the Light Saviour offered benignly.

Die,” the woman replied succinctly.

Harry Potter gave a tight smile. “Maybe later,” he said.

 

~ are you ready?

 

From the office overlooking the Atrium, the child watched through their thick-glassed goggles as Harry Potter battled the four remaining Dark Followers who dared to stand against him. The fight doesn't last very long. None of them are even remotely close to his power level; very few people are. A few concussive blasts that overpower their attempts at shields sent the Dark Followers crashing in to wall, unconscious or magic-dazed.

In his victory, Harry Potter pointed at each of them, muttering for about ten seconds each. One by one, they disappeared in much the same way the watching child sent off the first Death Eater they encountered. Harry Potter didn't require pre-made Portkeys or a wand to do the exact same thing.

Not that anyone was using wands much anymore.

Once Voldemort had enacted the Sealing and locked Great Britain off from the rest of the world, releasing all manners of ancient magics and monsters, the resulting magical-saturation and mutations had made wands mostly a thing of the past. Overloaded by the newly fractious magic, many a wizard and witch had burnt out or blown up their wands – ouch, splinters – and put into unprecedented contact with a wilder magic, wands became a crutch to the disciplined sorcerer. There were other tools that could be used in a pinch, of course, but they were usually hard to craft and harder to keep, so they generally weren't used in pinches. If you had the magic, it was a lot quicker just to throw magic about with your hands and put up with spell-burnt fingertips.  

Soon enough, the Atrium was empty save the twenty-eight-year-old man who used to be called the Boy-Who-Lived, one of the most powerful magicians and deadly duellers to come out of the Sealing. He rightfully did not even look as though he had broken a sweat – there was good reason why those Death Eaters ran – and just stood there, as though waiting for something. The Light Saviour and Leader smoothed his clothes and absentmindedly ran a hand through his hair, then pulled the sleeve away from one wrist to see bare, scarred skin and appeared to sigh.

High above, watching closely, the child rubbed their small fingers awkwardly over the battered, gold wristwatch wrapped around their thin arm with a generous application of Spell-o-tape so it stayed there. They still weren't comfortable wearing it, the weight on their wrist unfamiliar – it was a recent gift that had been given rather untraditionally and spontaneously.

“Please don't die,” the child said quietly.

Too far away to have had a hope of hearing them, Harry Potter merely shrugged his shoulder and performed several stretches with his arms, shaking out a few sparks from his hands. He walked towards the blackened and partly-melted statue in the centre of the Atrium, turned his face up towards it, and... seemed to be seeing a ghost for a long, drawn-out moment. Then he raised his hands, took a deep breath, and the statue started to tear itself apart.

The marble shredded in seconds, becoming tissue-thin scraps and snow-like flakes. The pieces of the statue ripped into the air and then floated to the floor in small piles. Once the last stone foot is gone and the hideous symbol of hatred is little more than dust, Harry Potter lowered his hands.

He watched the marble flakes flutter down for awhile, then turned away with an air of casual indifference, like he hadn't just disintegrated a monument that had weathered years of wear and stood as a rallying symbol for magical superiority. Harry Potter, Leader of the Light, simply stuck his hands in his pockets and spun on his heel; he started to wander around the Atrium in a relaxed stroll and even whistled a tune as he went, ignoring the explosions that continued to echo outside in mostly-empty London town.

The world seemed to be waiting with bated breath, getting worse with every circle Harry Potter made of the room. There was a heavy magical pressure in the air, growing stronger by the minute, spiking with every resounding bang in the distance.

Harry Potter did not stop strolling with apparent unconcern until after his seventh circuit of the destroyed statue, when everything suddenly seemed to go silent. He stopped immediately, and turned towards the long hall of Floo Chimneys that stretched out into shadow. His relaxed pose slid subtly into tense readiness.

A wind seemed to be blowing from the end of the cavernous hall, making light debris and papers flutter towards Harry Potter and the destroyed statue, and a sound like a continuous rumble of thunder started and grew louder until the building itself was trembling. Then came a crack like a lightning strike, cutting off the sound and wind like the world had abruptly been choked silent.

A nightmarish figure turned out of the air in a swirl of dark robes, in the centre of the tunnel of Floo Chimneys. All too clear through the enchanted goggles, the child saw red eyes glint and pale, white skin glow, veins snaking visibly under the scales, stark against the shadows of the long hall. The child flinched imagining that they were as close to the fearsome being as their observational-aid could let them believe.

Thought they recently attempted to mimic this figure, they realized with gnawing terror that it would be impossible to truly capture the inhuman look, deathly presence, and overwhelmingly powerful aura of this wrathful, unnatural being that had tried to rule over Great Britain for the past ten long years of hell on Earth.

The self-proclaimed God; the Dark Lord Voldemort.

Voldemort long and spidery fingers flexed at his sides, without wand and yet unbelievably dangerous even so, as he stood in tense expectation, his blood-red eyes focused intently on the young man across the Atrium floor. Harry Potter stared back evenly at his foe, hands ready at his sides, and rested unmoving. The silence that had descended between them hung with all the fragility and sharpness of a sheen sheet of glass, and then it shattered.

“Harry... Potter...” whispered Voldemort, the slithering sound travelling throughout the entire Atrum and leaving a feeling like harsh breath across the back of the child's neck. They shuddered from the feeling, from the crawling sensation that the Dark Lord's voice brought to their skin.

“Have you finally chosen... to sstop running, boy?” Voldemort asked mockingly, having made many a similar speech over the long years. “To die as you were meant to? To cease living off... the borrowed time the lives of your comrades buy you? To meet with Death...?”

The Once-Boy-Who-Lived did not immediately answer. Instead, his fingers made the faint beginning of a drumming motion against the air. The child knew, as surely as they knew that the sun was warm and the sky was blue, by the set of the man's shoulders, that Harry Potter was smiling.

The Light Leader's voice echoed as clearly through the Atrium as Voldemort's did.

“Are you?”

 

~ the glass dragon

 

Deep inside, the child knew that Lord Voldemort was no God.

They had been raised on the stories of Harry James Potter and Tom Marvolo Riddle for as long as they could remember. They knew of the abandoned baby of Merope Gaunt, the fearful orphan boy of Wool's Orphanage, the snake-in-the-grass, perfect Hogwarts Head Boy. So of course they knew that Voldemort wasn't actually a God.

But there was a difference between knowing something and knowing something. There were also myths of Gods who were mortal once, and the stories of Tom Riddle did little against the nightmarish reality of what that heartless boy became. And all Gods must start somewhere, surely?

What this child witnessed now did little to help the mortal vision of Voldemort, as the Dark Lord and Light Saviour began their final fight. Because this...? This was the bones that stories were build on; this was the breath that legends were born on; this was the soul that all myths were spun from.

This was a completely fucking stupid idea, they're going to die, this was the most unsafe thing they'd ever done and that was saying something, and they swore they're never going to disobey Harry or Neville again, oh my Merlin, what kind of absolute idiot invited themselves to a duel between a God and his killer?

It started with a bow.

After Harry Potter asked Voldemort if he was prepared to face Death, the pair stood in silence for awhile, before the Voldemort lips twisted upwards into a sickly smile. It wasn't a forced smile... just a horribly empty one. There was no goodness at all to it.

“Sso... we duel,” Voldemort said, raising one of his skeletal hands, already tinged green with his most favourite and famous of curses.

Harry Potter raised a hand as well, but shook a finger instead of firing a spell. “Ah, ah, ah, that's not how it goes. We bow to each other, Tom,” he corrected, sounding highly amused as he bent only ever-so-slightly. “Come, the niceties will be observed. We're not animals.

Voldemort paused thoughtfully, then lightly inclined his head. “Dumbledore would have liked you to show manners...” he murmured in his hissing voice. “Very good... you have bowed to Death, but – I am weary of your mockery, boy – it is long time that you met with it!”

Without another word, from Voldemort's corpse-like hand sprung a familiar, deathly-green curse. It was as large as an elephant and as fast as a spell, and it screamed and burned straight towards Harry Potter like a shot. Or, rather, towards the empty space where Harry Potter had been, as the Leader of the Light had already blurred to the side in a shimmering spiral and fired a sizzling curse in return before the Avada Kedavra had come close to where he had been. Then he was gone again, as soon as the spell left his fingertips, for Voldemort sent a second green curse towards him, one that swallowed Harry Potter's red curse like a whale might a minnow.

And they were off.

The curses flew freely through the Atrium, steadily growing larger and faster as Harry Potter flitted from place to place before any hit could land and Voldemort stood in the centre of the hall, equally untouchable through his seemingly-effortless deflections and consuming, cannibalizing spells. It was impossible to catch the expression on the Light Saviour's face, but the Dark Lord seemed almost bored with the game of cat-and-mouse between them. They'd played it so many times, after all.

But then there was a ripple through the black tiles of the floor, a shudder through the stone, and the entire Atrium floor burst into raging waves that rose and fell like a storming sea of blackened stone. Harry Potter was nowhere to be seen, but Voldemort was caught in the eye of the storm and colossal towers of tiles – all as tall as the ceiling – rose around him, then lunged downwards with crashing force.

The child watched in awe, nose pressed against the office's window, goggles clinking against the glass, as the Dark Lord disappeared from sight under the massive trap.

And then they stared in horror, as a burst of energy was emitted from the depths and the roiling waves of the Atrium floor suddenly stilled, followed by a second burst of energy that turned the smooth dunes into an explosion of shards and rubble that smashed against and into the scorched walls and ceiling.

“How far we both have come...” whispers a familiar, harsh voice.

A cloud of sallow, white fog spilled over the edges of the newly-created crater, Voldemort's pale figure rising from the centre. With a careless wave of a skeletal arm, the sickly, white fog rushed forward and outwards. It hissed, snapped, and popped ominously as it flooded to the Atrium.

Eyes widening, the child quickly checked the office window to make sure the glass was unbroken and realized that it terrifying wasn't. It was almost certain that the fog was harmful if not lethal, and while casting a Bubble-Body Charm was the easiest solution – probably – it was said that the Dark Lord could detect the smallest use of magic from miles away. Rumours, probably, but dared the child risk it without Harry Potter to hold Voldemort's attention? Which option was the least deadly?

Luckily for the child, they did not have to choose, as the tissue-thin scraps of marble from the Magic Is Might statue began to stir in small whirlwinds. Each dancing flake seemed to bloom, unfolding tiny wings and fluttering into miniature butterflies, and then a fearsome and sudden gust blew all the butterflies – there were hundreds of them – forwards and the fog back. The creeping cloud's progress was halted as it billowed in place and the air was filled with swarms of transfigured insects heading straight for the Dark Lord.

Voldemort wasted no time in sending his fog spiralling up and out to deal with the pests, and when coming into contact with the white fog, the lowest of the butterflies melted where they flew. The transfigured insects closer to the ceiling responded by bursting into flames and shooting towards the Dark Lord like tiny comets. Some got caught by the fog, but many made it through, only to sizzle into nothing with a few careless flicks of Voldemort's fingers as they reached him.

Meanwhile, the wind that was holding back the dangerous fog grew stronger, and the white cloud was forced to rush back towards its maker, who dissipated it with ease. Then Voldemort proceeded to calm the forceful wind, so the child supposed judging by the settling of his misting, dark robes as he floated far above the floor.

Fog and wind gone, standing tall in the air, Voldemort scanned the dark Atrium carefully. The child automatically shrank back from the glass, just in case their painstakingly-placed protective charms were seen through in Voldemort's search for any sign of Harry Potter.

“Come now, boy...” the Dark Lord beckoned, sounding unconcerned and thoroughly bored, “you must have more for me than simple parlour trickss... and hiding games.”

This was when the dragon crashed through the ceiling.

It was, even at first glance, obviously not a real dragon. It was made of glass and metal for one thing, like it had been fashioned from the remains of one of those shiny, modern skyscrapers out in London, and its eyes glowed bright yellow like spotlights for another. It was a creature of transparent shards and twisting, metal cables, a masterpiece of sharpness and sorcery bigger than a house, and the first thing it did was lunge for the Dark Lord with its terrible mouth of cracked, jagged glass, ready to chew him to pieces.

Voldemort, suspended in the air, dodged it with the flight pattern of a fly, although he made rather more of a skeletal bat in his black robes. Voldemort sent a curse as he moved, a Blasting Curse by the looks of the orange light, which didn't seem entirely sensible given the glass, but the child supposed that Voldemort had enough shielding ability for that not to matter.

But the expected explosion of glass didn't happen, as the child had hoped it wouldn't, because too many people had worked too hard on the thing for it to fail at first spell. Instead, the curse connected with the reflective scale-shards and got sucked inside the beast. For a few brief seconds, the fiery curse made the dragon glow like the most dazzling lighthouse while Voldemort appeared to be surprised by the lack of destruction, and then the creature opened its jagged mouth and roared out the spell like it was blazing dragonfire, straight back out at the caster.

It would be a poor God who was killed by his own curse returned to him; Voldemort dodged the Blasting Curse easily and the hit section of the wall behind him was violently smashed out. The entire building shuddered from the force of the spell that punched such a hole, and the child began to worry slightly at the cracks that appeared and then grew at the edges of where the open sky could be seen, snaking across the ceiling as the glass dragon rampaged and Voldemort rained curses down on it.

When people had used to talk about 'bringing the Ministry down', back when there had still been a farce of a Ministry to take down, the child was certain that this wasn't what they'd meant. Well, maybe. Sometimes it was hard to sort between the metaphorical and the literal between all the general bitterness.

But while the ceiling and walls slowly began to break, the glass dragon held strong. It swallowed every spell with ease, sometimes several at a time, and then spat them out as a mixed mess of highly-unstable magic that did the highly-unstable building no favours at all.

Crack, went the broken Atrium ceiling.

The charging way the dragon scrabbled over the misshapen floor to hopefully devour the Dark Lord didn't do the Ministry infrastructure any favours either. It crashed into the Floo Chimneys from failed lunges; it smashed into the wall as it leaped, and it left deep gouges in the black tiles, suffering no damage to its shining, glass scales as it stomped.

Crunch, went the uneven Atrium floor.

In an impressive feat of magic, Voldemort, keeping out of the dragon's reach by moving swiftly through the air, reached out a bony hand and all the shards sent into the walls – the ones from the destroyed waves trap – removed themselves from the wall and shot towards the dragon. Some were easily as big as the glass creature's forearm, but the dragon's wings and tail snapped out and made quick work of the projectiles. Pieces of tile flew throughout the room, shattering under the dragon's claws and clattering against the nearest unfortunate surface.

Crumble, went several pieces of the battered Atrium wall.

Undamaged, the glass dragon brushed and smashed aside the stone chunks to keep up its attack on the Dark Lord. Its yellow eyes flared brightly as it lunged forward yet again, only to be stopped short a scant few meters away from biting down on black robes because its feet had sunk into the black tiles, were sinking farther, and were being held fast by the gooey stone. Unnoticing, the glass dragon just continued to gnash its jagged teeth as the floor started to steam and bubble and glow increasingly red. Then, with a hideous hiss, the sinking trap erupted into fiery liquid that looked to come straight from the heart of a volcano and the dragon was suddenly wading in a pit of molten stone.

It started slow at first, as bright runes lit up and flickered across its body, but then the glass started to dribble and the dragon's legs started to bend. The ferociously snapping and soundlessly snarling creature didn't even seem to notice as it became a misshapen mess under the intense, unbearable heat it was trapped in, nor as its limbs gave out and it smashed to the boiling floor with helpless struggles.

From their hiding place, the child watched with the feeling that time was stretching out to give the crafted creature a few more pitiful moments of life. It wasn't much longer before the winking runes carved all over the glass blinked out permanently, and the yellow glow of its melting eyes flickered a just a few times more before following suit.

If there was any life in it at all, it was gone now.

 

~ the Unsealing

 

Voldemort watched the dying thing from a distance, having floated farther away to escape the wrathful heat of his elemental magic. He hung in the air as the ruined, misshapen dragon corpse sank and bubbled into the roiling lake he had created. The Dark Lord's expression, from what the child could see from this angle, was deeply hateful and disdainful – his lipless mouth was twisted into his infamous sneer.

“You pathetic toys, Potter, are-” Voldemort began, before he was cut off by an earth-shaking sound.

It was like thunder, only louder, and the ground quaked and shuddered under its roar. The child put a tiny hand to their chest, feeling their ribs shake and heart stutter, the thin barrier of their skin nothing to the life-drowning sound. Chunks of rock fell from the Atrium walls, glass smashed against the floor from office windows, and portions of the cracked ceiling relievedly gave way to gravity.

The Dark Lord even seemed to stumble in the air, then looked up the half-ceiling towards the dark sky above. The child scrabbled to adjust the settings on their goggles and followed Voldemort's gaze, focusing on the missing pieces of roof – with faint screaming in the back of their mind that the sky might actually be falling, because that was what it sounded was happening.

And it looked it too! Great, white cracks were etching and scratching across the night sky, cutting across the stars to make it appear as though there was a giant, jigsaw-puzzle dome over the world. As each glowing rip tore itself across the dark blue, the thunderous sound kept on rolling.

When the sky was finished breaking, the sound stopped. The only sounds then were some muted echoes before a delicate silence descended, and the child thought they might have been able to hear a pin drop halfway across London. The lake of lava slowly eating at the glass dragon's corpse bubbled and hissed, and it seemed almost deafening.

Then one of the jigsaw pieces lit up, white and bright like a second moon, before it flashed like lightning and went dark. A few seconds later, a sound like the bang of a firework, only louder, reached them, causing more glass to tinkle down to the Atrium floor.

It might have been the child's imagination now... but the stars in that spot seemed brighter than they were before. The sky looked bluer too, with tinges of purple almost, as though there had been an unwashed window there and someone had only just remembered to clean the many coats of dust away. Or maybe it was just the knowledge that the window had been removed entirely, the child supposed dimly, breathlessly, their lungs feeling strangely incapable of handling the air.

It might have just been their imagination – it was definitely their imagination, honesty – but the air felt fresher too.

The cracks in the sky flashed and then disappeared, first one by one, and then like an unstoppable wave. Their firework-like bang echoed across the city, and made the child's heart bang at their chest. Or maybe that was the excitement, the joy – it was hard to tell.

Halfway through the flashes and pops, Voldemort had started screaming – a long, high, agonized shriek of rage and horror and realization. Once the sky was whole again, bluer and brighter than ever, and the echoes of the banging sounds were swallowed by dark London town, Voldemort's screaming stopped and he whirled in the air on the rest of the Atrium.

Joy stuttered in the child's chest at the seething aura suddenly saturating the air, a fury nearly as drowning as the sound from earlier. They shrunk back from the glass, heart in their throat and their hand reaching for the drawstring bag of marbles – their escape – in their purse. The power radiating off the Dark Lord was suffocating, the air was crackling with power, and the thought of staying around to be a furious God's target of wrath was terrifying.

But that didn't stop some people.

A silent, bright-red curse shot through the air towards Voldemort's back, quick like a shooting star – blink and you'll miss it. The child inhaled sharply, eyes widening, as... the Dark Lord turned even faster and backhanded it into the nearest Floo Chimney, when it soundlessly exploded and sent shards of the small alcove flying into the hissing lava pit.

Potter...” Voldemort snarled – an order for the Light Saviour to reveal himself.

A small tutting sound echoed through the Atrium as Harry Potter stepped into sight, hopping from thin air onto the platform where the Magic Is Might statue used to be. The twenty-eight-year-old man rubbed the back of his neck and then ran that hand through his untidy black hair, looking the very picture of sheepishness save for the shit-eating grin that the child briefly caught as he stretched – one that informed anyone who cared to look that he wasn't really sorry in the slightest.

What,” Voldemort demanded in a sharp hiss, “was that?”

Harry Potter shrugged, the motion rolling down from his shoulders to the tips of his toes. “What do you think it was, Tom?” he returned scathingly, like he couldn't believe he had to say something this obvious. “It's your precious Sealing... well, it was. We sort of broke it.”

A bubble of lava burst with a particularly loud sizzle, and the child imagined that the Light Saviour was smirking right now, basking in this final, loud-sought-after victory.

“That's right, Tom!” the man of the moment said brightly, nearly skipping off his pedestal onto the uneven black tiles, hands stretched out to balance himself as he does, his fingers twitching in a barely noticeable beckoning. “Your Sealing is over. I see you made short work of our dragon while we -”

A gob of lava shot up at Voldemort's back, only to fall to the floor several meters before impact, literally rock solid. Bits of frost scattered off it over the tiles, which quickly melted due to the roiling heat nearby. Voldemort had not moved.

“- were busy,” Harry Potter finished, less brightly, fingers still twitching at his sides. “Hermione says hello, by the way, and wants me to tell you that your spellwork was rather shoddy for an all-powerful tyrant, honestly. She wasn't all that impressed... more of the opposite, really.”

Voldemort said nothing, but the child noticed warily that the temperature seemed to be rather unstable throughout the Atrium. There was frost on some windows... steam on others... as the room alternated between ragingly hot and furiously cold.

The child's hand twitched towards that bag of marbles. Just one phrase and a little bit of legwork and they could rejoin the others, whose boats and brooms would have been setting off now, all eager to be the first people to leave Britain in over ten years. People... people that the Light Saviour had put above himself as he put himself in front of the angry Dark Lord, a sacrificial distraction in exchange for their safe passage.

But... if the child left now... Harry would be left behind, and there was no guarantee that he would join them later. The air itself seethed with Voldemort, and though it hardly mattered who won now – there was nothing really left of Britain, of either the Dark or the Light or everything in between; victory now would pretty much only be a prize for someone's pride – that only really meant that Voldemort had very, very little left to lose now.

“Face it, Tom, you've lost,” the Light Saviour said flatly, fully serious. “You were going to lose the moment you started this fight and this is it. Your followers are dead or fleeing; the cage you've put around your would-be kingdom is gone; the creatures you let free are either dead or won't help you. Your war is over, Tom; this is the end. It's just you and me now... not even your Horcruxes are left.”

Voldemort moved now, lowering himself slowly to the ground from the air, any appearance of regalness gone as his skeletal chest heaved and his red eyes were narrowly fixed on the figure in front of him. His long fingers were splayed at his sides, taut and already tinged green with growing death.

“The diary, the ring, the locket, the cup, the diadem, and... after ten long years... the snake,” Harry Potter lists easily, “all the Horcruxes you made intentionally, and then me, your unintentional one. You must remember that one – must have been about five years ago now? Where you finally got me with the killing curse and I got up again and you were terrified? Good times, right?

“But where was I? Right. Nagini. She's gone too, Tom. Everybody's gone... if they're not dead, then they'll be leaving soon enough. All because of you. You can't rule through fear and hatred and force, it just doesn't work, and now there's no one left to rule over! You can't even make anymore Horcruxes because you've got too little humanity left! You don't learn from your mistakes, Riddle, do you?”

“You... dare...” Voldemort hissed, but his foe kept going.

“Oh, I dare. After ten years of goddamn hell, you bet that I dare. Hell, you made my life shit years before that, so you bet that I dare. And do y'know what else I'll dare? I'll advise you to take a moment here to think about what you've done... just think; and maybe even – maybe even try for some remorse, Riddle.”

What?”

“You've got an eternity of nothing waiting for you otherwise and I honestly think that might be worse than what you've put me through... I can be the bigger man... so try for some remorse, Tom. Just try to pull those splintered, shattered pieces of your rotten, little soul together. Nothing can help you now except some good ol' remorse – you've seen to that. It's your one last chance... it's all you've got left. Do you need a minute?”

Voldemort sneered, face purely hateful. “You grow more inane with time, Potter, ever the fool puppet. The old man would almost certainly be proud... first nonsense about Hallows... and then about love and now about remorse... you will cling to any small hope with shameless desperation.”

“I'd rather be a hopeful fool than an emotionless and delusional husk clinging to his existence at any cost,” Harry Potter snapped back. “I see you won't be needing that minute then. That's a shame... although I can't honestly say that I'm surprised.”

The Once-Boy-Who-Lived spread his arms wide, sweeping them over the room. “So this is it then... we've broken your petty Sealing and now there might actually be no one else but us in all of London – in all of Britain maybe. It's just you and me – here; now – at the end of all things.”

 

~ so promised and whispered the cup in the vault

 

Deep underground, where such places were most often found, were cavernous vaults filled with dormant things. It was a place that had been forgotten in time, with the war that was being waged far above where things like rain and sunshine touched, although most of vaults' antique and rather useless contents had been forgotten long before that. But, in their content dozing and dormancy, the vault's objects hadn't really noticed being forgotten.

But not every object was content to rest quietly in the silence and darkness.

Not the cup.

It glowed with an eerie shine in the depths of the large vaults, lit from within with a white light that gleamed off its daintily-carved, blue, crystal glass and cast a pale, blue glow over the dragon-shaped, obsidian handles and base. Like a beacon, it shone, and the air around it even seemed to whisper faintly. Its twisting light curled through the other objects of the crowded vaults with restless discontent and murmured promises.

Promises... promises...

The cup was a newcomer to the vault. It had only been sitting here for about fourteen years, taken by wand from damp grass and left in the depths of the Ministry for some purpose that never came. For some reason left here... unawarded... unclaimed... untouched. And it knew, as much as any magical, mostly-inanimate artefact symbolic of victory and triumph could know, that this wasn't how things were supposed to have gone.

It had done its waiting.

Patiently sleeping, it had waited for years and years for its sister to burn again. Joyfully, it had reawakened for beginning of what it had been forged for, come again after so long. Beauteously and brightly, it had shone as it was presented for the ever-changing but ever-bloodthirsty crowd.

Desire me, it had told them, hunger and crave to run your hands over my crystal lettering with the sweet, succulent knowledge that you and you alone were the victor – the worthy – the champion of among all champions.

That had always been its favourite bit, what it had been forged – no, not forged, but born – to do. What little consciousness lived in it lived to inspire a thirst to prove oneself, a yearning for acknowledgement, a fascination with fame, and a lust for challenge. It glowed from within with this power even now, and the mutated, ancient magics of this cup whispered the temptations through the room.

Gleefully, it had felt the powers of the ritual rising with every step in the dance completed, every sacrifice given in the pursuit of victory. Excitedly, it had been carried through the feral, living walls of leaves in anticipation of the climax. Confusedly, it had been cursed with foreign magic and when hands (two hands, two people) rightly reached out and grasped it, bloody and sweaty and desperate but relieved and victorious, the whole world had been wrongfully whisked away.

Something had happened – as it had been dropped on damp grass once, grasped and whisked away again, then dropped on damp grass again – to keep it from being hefted up into the air with the joyful screams of the crowd all around it as things should have been. Instead of claimed by the victor (victors?), it had been taken away and left in this stale dark... left here still covered in bits and pieces of that awful whisking magic that wouldn't let it sleep... and never touched since.

This was not how things were supposed to be. Without the Victor's Ceremony, it could not rest, not when things were not closed as they should have been, and so the magics of the ritual grew to ever greater heights in this unending task of blood and battle and sacrifice. It had been left here, collecting dangerous amounts of power, for over thirteen years now, and it could not sleep as things were.

In the depths of the vaults, the cup strained with the need to be claimed. Its ever-growing power glowed brightly in the darkness and its seductive whispers reaching and reaching through the dormant room of gathered things. It promised everything... anything... to whomever could be listening, those last, suffering champions – the only way it knew how to end this edged state, as it had been born and forged to do.

Claim me, it desperately told the room, as it had again and again, over and over, champion, claim me. Find me and grasp me, your prize for which all your tears of frustration and misery and blood and sweat have been for. I am what you have earned for your sacrifice - your trophy, your triumph, your fame and your fortune, your gain and your glory... Your eternal glory.

But no one heard it. The glow was for nothing if no one was there to see it; the whispers were for the same if there was no one there to hear them. As no one ever had, these thirteen long years of quiet and dark in this cavernous, unchanging, confining prison.

But overhead... overhead... the world shook with thunderous promise.