Well, first of all, apologies for how long it took to get this out.
Second, thanks to my alphas at the place that shall not be named, and my beta Dave.
And on with the show. Enjoy.
The bark was rough against the skin on my hands as I leaned away from the trunk of the tree as far as I felt safe. Finding something to climb that was both easy for someone with a bruised rib and had a good view of my target had been difficult, especially in the dark. The tree I finally settled on had thick foliage, making it difficult to be spotted by those doing the looking. Peripheral vision was a problem, however.
I had convinced myself that I would be an idiot to even think of charging in again. I just told myself that I was just taking the time to scout out the defences before leaving for good. But looking at the sheer chaos that was the anthill that I’d kicked over, well, opportunity knocks rarely. Through the leafy canopy, I could make out Malfoy’s platinum head, and I could just hear some of his shouted instructions. From the looks of things, they were abandoning their little utopia, collecting everything they could before leaving. I couldn’t imagine why. After all, they’ve only been broken into and attacked, had a prisoner escape, lost their Master’s last remaining Horcrux, and suffered significant losses of manpower. All in one day.
The little ferret had obviously blindly accepted Snape’s repeated denunciations of my talents over the years. With a few notable exceptions, my Slytherin contemporaries always underestimated me. Actually, it would probably be far more accurate to say that my they always overestimated themselves. Those who believed in the superiority of blood almost always came second in talent. Instead, they got the gold medal in self-delusion. Hermione always did find that amusing.
Despite the favourable conditions, I still wasn’t sure I had the ability to survive another attempt at forced entry. Even though as a group they were severely weakened, it would not take much coordination to completely overwhelm me. I had relied on stealth and surprise to enter the first time; I wasn’t going to get the same chances this time around. I watched for a while, trying to get an idea of the manpower Malfoy still commanded, and how he was directing them. Before, the guards had a competent wizard directing security. Now they had to deal with a pure-blooded ponce frothing at the mouth. Where there was once a crisp pattern to their rounds, now the guards were ill-directed and undermanned. Not exactly world’s best practise. Oddly, perimeter defense seemed to be pretty low on their priority list; Malfoy had nearly all of his hired muscle reinforcing the structure of the manor and salvaging what they could.
I gave a tight grin. Looks like Malfoy’s old view of â€˜Daddy will pay for anything I want’ was getting a beating. The little bastard was being forced to recover everything he could. He was definitely preparing to abandon this base of operations. Zab or Moody would have a backup base prepared well in advance; several of them, most likely. Was it underestimating Malfoy to assume that he wouldn’t have the same level of backup?
I frowned in thought. Being underestimated was very helpful, and I didn’t want to fall into the same trap as Malfoy had. Sure, he had been carrying the Horcrux, which would have had an effect on his thought processes, but even left-handed, he was far more competent with a wand now than he had been back at school. It would be the height of arrogance to assume that no one else could have received my level of training in the past few years.
A few distant shouts captured my attention. I watched one wizard as he accidentally brought down the roof on an exposed section of the manor. Malfoy and a pair of other wizards ran to the scene, waving their arms and screaming. I didn’t bother stifling a grin as the ferret lost whatever cool he retained and shrieked a colourful, painful-looking curse at the offending fellow.
Ooh, bad move, moron. Instantly, wands were drawn all over the place. Perhaps I was giving him too much credit. The Horcrux seems to have made him believe that he was a Dark Lord himself, or at least that he commanded the fear and respect a Dark Lord should. If Voldemort had cursed a follower like that, the rest of his Death Eaters would probably have stuck around and watched with interest, if not distain, while hoping to not attract their Lord’s attention. But Riddle was insanely powerful, something little Draco was not.
While disappointing that no more spells were thrown, my chances of regaining my property were increased dramatically as almost half of the remaining wizards thought their local equivalent of "Bugger this for a game of soldiers" and disapparated. Malfoy kept heaping abuse on the remaining stooges, only to have another smaller group call it quits.
Maybe I did have the opportunity to get my property back. If I waited long enough, Malfoy’s stunning personality might just ostracise his entire entourage.
After another ten minutes of appallingly juvenile behaviour, it became apparent that the last members of his private army were either made of sterner stuff, or figured that getting their ex-comrades’ share of the contents of Malfoy’s wallet made a great deal of financial sense. I suppose greed will win out over prudence eventually.
With Malfoy’s forces now reduced to a quarter of their numbers of just an hour ago, I guess I had my only real opportunity to recover my property. With Malfoy being essentially dead to the Ministry, he could take my stuff anywhere. I made up my mind. Taking note of the perimeter guards - the lack of them, actually - I drifted down out of the branches of the tree. I briefly debated the merits of flying in on the broom, but discarded that tactic quickly. I leaned the broom against the tree’s trunk, and carefully made my way closer to the outer wall. In the colourless early morning light, I leaned against the crumbling brickwork and breathed deeply to steady myself. I took out my stolen wand and made preparations to ambush the wizard guarding the gatehouse. Ward detection spells indicated that there had been rudimentary defenses erected since my escape.
The recognisable wards were little more than alarms, though it would be disorientating to step through them without preparation. There was a linked pair that I didn’t recognise, which was annoying, but not really surprising. Wardcrafters kept their creations secret for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which was that it made them more difficult to bring down, requiring special skills. Bill Weasley, for one, made a career out of bypassing or bringing down unknown wards. As for me, given enough time, I could bring down most non-reinforced, generic wards. But specialised wards outside of my experience? I wouldn’t want to try.
Of course, Zab hadn’t exactly neglected this area of my education. When we discussed the theory behind wards designed around allowing movement only by certain parties, Zab took great pains to explain just how carefully and deliberately they needed to be set. When placed in haste, errors were often made unwittingly.
The wards here had been placed quickly. It was only a few seconds before I found a weakness.
They had been placed along the wall. Not behind, or in front of, but along. That wasn’t unusual, in and of itself - in nearly every instance, a ward on a property was placed along the boundary. But they were usually placed with a little more care. Anyone climbing over this stone wall would trip the magic. Anyone going under, however…
I transfigured a handful of stones at the base of the outer wall into sand. I grinned and crawled through a new hole with a beach motif. The wards placed along the top of the wall remained undisturbed. Once through, I checked to ensure that I’d been undetected. Nothing seemed amiss.
Still kneeling, I stretched, wincing as my partially healed ribs protested. Time to move. I could only see two wizards from my position, so I figured that my next target was spoken for. With them out of the picture, I had a relatively clear run at the building proper. I gingerly crept forward, letting the long grass cover my movements somewhat.
The pair of wizards I marked were nervous. Very nervous indeed. I couldn’t follow their conversation (being both distant and in German), but they almost seemed on the verge of panic, gesturing wildly and speaking in the kind of loud whisper that carries a long way. Time to stop that.
From a crouch, I dropped a silencing charm on them, and then pushed them up and away. They were launched at a forty-five degree angle, and flew soundlessly for a good five or six metres before crashing into the turf. The impact with the ground was silent, due to my first spell, but I could make out their expressions. It didn’t look pleasant at all. One was knocked out cold, the other temporarily unable to breathe.
I quickly moved forward and stood over the downed wizards, wondering what the hell I should do with them now. While taking every opportunity presented was good for accomplishing short-term goals, I really should have thought about things first. Killing was becoming, if not a habit, then at least familiar. But deliberate murder of helpless individuals was something completely different.
The conscious wizard of the pair lay on the ground winded, his breath coming in gasps and his arms held protectively over his head. He tried to scrabble backwards, but his drooling comrade prevented him from moving too far. Unsurprisingly, the scene reminded me of the Falcone scion’s attempted supplication. I ran my options through my head. I could just kill them, but I really didn’t want to do that.
I could stun both, but the next person to come along could enervate them and that would defeat the purpose. Same with ropes, petrification and silencing. Transfiguration was a possibility, but if I forgot where I left them, it would be tantamount to killing. Magic was great, but when your opponents had the same ability, it became a real bugger. I thought back on all the times I had been incapacitated, and began sifting through the memories, to find one that would work in this situation.
I grinned at one particularly vivid memory, causing the poor bugger who was awake to whimper even louder. "Oh, shush, you big baby," I chided.
He swallowed nervously, still not able to breathe well. "What are you going to do?" he mouthed. At least, that was what I assumed he was trying to say. It fit the situation well.
I raised an eyebrow. "Do you really want to know?"
That really scared him. Paranoid visions of torture marched in front of his eyes, and he nearly panicked enough to try and attack an armed opponent in a position of strength. I really needed to buy Zab a nice bottle of firewhiskey. His lessons went well beyond standard Hogwarts curriculum, but were damned useful. â€˜Always leave threats open-ended’. Nothing you could threaten them with would be half as bad as what they could dream up. After all, their imagination would draw upon their own catalogue of fears.
"Relax, I’m not going to hurt you."
"No?" he said silently, hope blossoming forlornly in his eyes. It was almost pitifully easy to destroy it.
"No," I said serenely. "Hold out your hands."
Predictably, he held them closer.
I shook a finger at him. "Look, either hold them out or I’ll blow them off. I’ll then move onto other extremities."
My blasÃ© threat was enough for him. Tentatively, he held out a pair of trembling arms. I took aim with my wand; he clenched his eyes shut and turned his head away. One Lockhart special later, and my captive had no bones below the elbow.
There, try casting spells now, bastard.
I stunned him before he’d even noticed his bones had been vanished. He wouldn’t be using a wand anytime in the next day or so (assuming he happened to have a handy measure of Skele-Gro nearby), but I didn’t have to kill him in cold blood. I wasn’t ready to give up that much of myself just yet. Maybe in a century or so. I repeated the spell combination on the unconscious wizard, before reversing both their wands. Anyone incautious enough to use a wand deliberately left on a downed foe deserved whatever curse they got hit with.
I finally disillusioned the bodies and moved onward. With any luck, anyone who missed them would assume they had deserted.
I covered the open ground quickly, and got to the relative safety of the main building without incident. My heart pounded solidly in my chest in a way that had nothing whatsoever to do with exertion. I was in mortal danger, I had a grin on my face that nothing would shift, a wand in my hand, and was about to do something completely (and, I suppose, stupidly) unexpected. And I was looking forward to it.
And that’s me, in a nutshell.
It was easy to find my quarry. His whiney voice carried rather nicely in the morning air. No active defenses were in place, besides the single patrol lying invisible somewhere on the grounds. They definitely weren’t expecting company, and were in the middle of shutting down their hideout.
I kept away from the more structurally unsound portions of the property, quietly making my way through to the main hall. At one of the side entrances, I surprised one wizard who was carrying an armful of parchment. We looked at each other, me with distain, and him with shock. He dropped the sheaf of parchment and grabbed his wand.
Unfortunately for him, my wand was at the ready. I dropped him as he tried to bring his wand to bear. A long time ago, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable using something I mentally associated with Malfoy and his ilk. Now, even though the idea of ambush was uncomfortable, prudence demanded that I make some changes to my ethics. I removed his arm bones and stepped over the prone form, made my way unhindered into the building. The passageway took me directly to the main hall, still covered with beams and splinters from my earlier visit.
No one had heard the small crunch made by my victim’s skull hitting the flagstones, since they were in the middle of a rather heated argument.
Malfoy stood facing a pair of wizards who appeared to represent about nine tenths of the experience of those left. The one with a larger build had short-cut, steel-grey hair, while the other was lean and whip-like. While I couldn’t see their expressions from my position, I could imagine them easily enough.
"Damn it!" Malfoy whined, pausing from filling a large bag with valuables. "Are you sure?"
The largest of the robed pair nodded. "Yes, the Master’s Horcrux is definitely not here." I could hear the unspoken â€˜like we told you hours ago’ in his voice. "Potter has taken it and gone."
Malfoy shook a familiar backpack. "He’ll be back for this." I froze at that, wondering if I was truly that predictable. I breathed deeply, pushing my doubts out in a silent sigh. I couldn’t afford to second-guess myself at this point.
The big German wizard snorted and shook his head. "I doubt it. He could sell the goblet to your Ministry for ten times what it would cost him to replace everything in that bag." I grimaced at that. I couldn’t replace my holly wand. Ever. It was too uniquely suited to me.
Malfoy almost whined. "He’ll come back, and we’ll get the Horcrux from him then," he said with almost painful delusion, putting the backpack on and picking up another sheaf of paper.
The slender wizard growled with frustration. "You’re an idiot. He’s gone and the Horcrux is not coming back. Now, where’s our payment?" he asked.
Malfoy spun around to face him. "Shut up, kraut! You’ll get your money when we’re gone from here. Now get to work!" He turned back to face the obvious leader. "Even if you’re right, Potter knows where we are, and he’ll have Dumbledore and his idiotic lackeys here soon. Perhaps I should leave you here to meet them," he threatened.
The wizard who had demanded cash drew his wand with a hiss, but his large companion reached out quickly and grabbed his arm. "No!" he said clearly, holding the man’s wand away from Malfoy. The aggressive wizard stared at his comrade as though he’d suggested mating with a unicorn.
Malfoy looked as though his birthday had arrived early. "You think you can take me?" he threatened, thrusting his scrawny chest out in an attempt to appear threatening. If one doubted the theory of evolution, one merely had to look at this pitiful example of biped attempting to intimidate others by puffing out his chest. It might have worked on a four-year-old.
The big fellow drew his wand in one smooth action and sent a bludgeoning curse towards my old school chum. The look of surprise on Malfoy’s face was another one I’d have to put into my pensieve. His platinum blond head lurched forward as he folded in two with the force of the spell, the armful of paper cushioning the spell somewhat. "He’s mine!" the larger wizard told his companion redundantly, letting his wrist go before sending another curse at the stricken idiot.
Despite the sudden attack, Malfoy let stack of parchment go and managed to deflect the second and third curses sent his way, all the while trying to avoid choking on his vomit. The fourth curse opened up a massive cut on his shoulder, which sent him stumbling backwards whimpering. What a pleasant sight that was, Draco Malfoy, pure-blooded scion, performing a manoeuvre known in military parlance as â€˜get the fuck out of here’. Well, the Malfoys were from French aristocratic stock, originally. It probably came naturally to him.
The offended wizard turned to his companion. He rumbled something to him; the only words I recognised were â€˜Potter’ and â€˜Hamburg’. He then turned and began Operation Ferret Hunt.
I couldn’t believe my luck. Dissension in the ranks was always good, but an active mutiny was more than I could have hoped for. I raised my wand and sent a stunner straight at the last wizard. Exhibiting far more skill and talent than any of the others I’d seen, he turned at the sound of my spell, and tried to dodge by hurling himself to his left. Unfortunately for him, on his left was a rather large pile of broken timber. He managed to land on a splinter the size of my arm. I stunned him quickly; there was no need to draw his suffering out. He might be fatally injured, or he might not. Either way, he would need medical attention before he could take any further part in the proceedings. With all the chaos and disorganisation, taking the bastards down one or two at a time was relatively easy. If there had been any sort of cohesive defense, I’d have had a much harder time of it.
I quickly took stock, noting that there wasn’t anything valuable or usable anywhere in the room. It had been thoroughly looted by Malfoy and his cronies. I grinned at the thought of the great Malfoy having to scrounge for his supper. Sweet Schadenfreude.
The spell battle between the blonde idiot and his seriously pissed ex-employee was noisy enough that following it was a simple matter. The secondary bangs and crashes acted like homing beacons, and I followed carefully, keeping an eye out for anyone with the same idea as me. I didn’t want to end up the proverbial meat in the sandwitch.
It only took a minute to catch up with them. On the surface, Malfoy was doing a very good impersonation of a rabbit, showing that he could run very well when needed. His mantra, which I could make out in bits and pieces occasionally, amounted to something like "oh shit, shit, shit", with occasional variations on the theme. While it was like an angelic harp to my soul, I had to wonder why the ponce didn’t just apparate away. He knew how, and it would make his life a lot easier, yet he was stringing his attacker along. Either he was exhausted, or he couldn’t gather the mental capacity required, or he had another plan. That though made me take that little bit extra caution in my pursuit.
He had managed to invoke a similar level of caution in his pursuer, though, whatever his scheme. Ahead, the stern-faced German had a deep gash on his thigh, around which his robes were crimson, heavy and damp. He limped tentatively around corners, with a shield already in place. The spell work was not all one way, and he had to duck back several times to avoid some dark curses. Three corners and two doors later found Malfoy in a room with no physical escape route, except through his assailant. It was here, as the confident German strode through the only doorway, that Malfoy’s sudden lack of skill disappeared.
With a word, the ferret set off two small explosive devices, attached to the doorframe on the inside of the room. The German was knocked forward in an uncontrolled manner by the shockwave. Malfoy’s sudden change in demeanour gave him the advantage, and the experienced wizard went down to a well-executed spread of spells. Very Slytherin, I mentally applauded.
Rather than continue in a professional vein and regroup, Malfoy reverted to type and began kicking the prone German. "How do you like that, traitor?" he asked the downed man, before using his wand to continue the torture. He sent an Everberus curse into the German’s spine. Even from where I was, I could hear the bones shatter under the ugly purple flash of light.
I took a second to make sure I wasn’t being followed, before readying to attack. I mentally ran through the curses I wanted to use, shielded myself, then rose and jumped into the doorway. There was no way I was charging into a room after what just happened. In a second, I took in the dÃ©cor (predominately green and silver -- surprised, I was not), the layout, (bed to my left, wardrobe on the far wall, my backpack and an open chest of belongings in the middle of the floor, near a dead German) and the occupant (injured, panting and off balance).
Malfoy was even more surprised to see me than when he had been attacked by his cronies. Nevertheless, he kept enough presence of mind to fire off a quick spell at me, just as I hurled one at him. His spell struck my shield and was almost totally dissipated. My spell struck and broke at least half his ribs, judging by the way his chest sort of deflated.
As he fell backwards onto the chest, an expression of intense confusion crossed his pointed face. I cast a final stunning spell at him, hoping to end his resistance as soon as possible. His lips moved however, and he wheezed something, triggering a portkey. Both Malfoy and the chest beneath him disappeared, just before my spell hit the floor.
I spun around in a tight circle, ready for an attack from a different direction.
After a few seconds, I realised that he had really gone. I grimaced and clutched at my side as the adrenaline in my veins faded. The rudimentary healing I’d managed to perform with my pilfered wand prevented any further damage from occurring, but it wasn’t up to protecting my abused ribs from a bludgeoning curse; even one that had most of its sting taken out by my shield. Well, that would change.
I dropped the wand that I’d taken from some nameless German, and scrabbled through my backpack for my own. My searching became more and more frenzied, before I finally had to accept the evidence.
Malfoy hadn’t returned my wand to the backpack. My invisibility cloak and robe were there, along with my acromantula silk gloves. A few potions, a wristwatch and my passport made up the remainder of the inventory. I knew that Kellermann had my other wand, the timeturner and my portkey sock, and I suspect Malfoy had taken my money pouch, but there was one missing item I wanted back above all others.
The idea that that disgusting waste of flesh had my holly wand sent waves of nausea through me. The thought that Malfoy would use my wand on someone else the way he used it on me… I just felt sick. I took a deep breath and screamed with frustration at the ferret’s escape.
Well, I thought as I bent over and retrieved the recently discarded wand, anger seething within. It’s time to clean up the scraps.
I threw on my invisibility robe. This time, I wasn’t going to be so nice.
I’d done it. Veni, vidi, er, victoria. I came, I saw, I won.
I only found three more wizards in the place, and as angry as I was, it was a simple matter to injure them enough for them to give up the fight. I only killed one of them, and even that was only because the idiot wouldn’t back down and scarper. Once I was sure I was alone, I put up some wards of my own and did a thorough search of the property. There wasn’t much left.
Every documented Horcrux of Voldemort’s was either destroyed or within my sphere of influence. I really should hunt down Nagini, just in case though. Perhaps I could stake the bloody snake to whatever’s left of the front door of the Gaunt hovel, on the off chance that Tom Riddle Junior does somehow manage to make a comeback. Yeah, that’s a nice idea. "Welcome home, Tom. Recognise this?"
My mind kept drifting back to my wand. It was remarkable just how attached I’d become to it without realizing it. Now it was in Malfoy’s hands (the thought still gave me chills), and could be in any country in the world. However, I knew where his mother lived, and with my memories of him casting an Unforgivable on me, I had all sorts of legal options. I knew the Malfoys were a very wealthy family, probably more so than the Potters and the Blacks combined - at least, until the Big V started draining their coffers in the name of the Cause. I’m sure Malachi would be delighted to take the money that would surely come from the inevitable legal action, but so long as I got my stuff back and struck the name Malfoy from the rolls of the â€˜prominent citizens’ list, I’d be satisfied, no matter how many Galleons it cost me.
I’d scavenged a grand total of one galleon and eight sickles from the bodies lying around the grounds of the Manor, which wouldn’t even come close to being enough for me to get a portkey back to England. I could apparate back to Grimmauld Place once I was in the country, but I still had the challenge of actually getting there while effectively broke. To do that, I needed to find a Magical community large enough to house an Embassy, or at least a representative from the Ministry, and in my entire time in Albania, I’d seen nothing of the sort.
That meant that I had to get back to Berlin the Muggle way. Berlin was the closest Magical community I knew of where I didn’t have a Death Mark from a local crime boss, and that wasn’t anywhere near the guards of a seriously pissed off mini-Nation. At the moment, my inventory consisted of a slightly malfunctioning broom, a small collection of wands, none of which were particularly attuned to me, and a backpack of equipment exceedingly well suited for illicit activities. Even without my wand, I could bypass pretty much any Muggle security system you cared to name.
I was in the process of planning out my return when I finally got a visitor. The look on his face was simply perfect.
I smirked as the ghostly visage of ex-Professor Snape scanned the building and grounds. "Why good afternoon, Snape. Fancy seeing you here," I called out, letting my tone speak for me.
He spun to glare at me. For some reason, the fact that his spectral robes billowed out around him intrigued me. His ego must be causing it, since there were no air currents in the world that would affect a ghost. "Potter!" he snapped.
I rolled my eyes. "I just can’t get rid of you, can I? I leave Hogwarts, and you’re still around. I throw you down a flight of stairs and break your neck, and you’re still around. I leave the fucking country, and you’re still around. What do I need to do to get rid of you?"
Even in a uniform shade of silver, I could see him flush with anger. "I was going to assist your escape, so I could finally leave this life," he hissed, his tone letting me know that the decision was most definitely under duress.
I frowned. How had he known that I was here? I doubted that Dumbledore knew. At least, I doubted he knew I was here when I had been captured. It was possible that the old man had somehow persuaded Dobby to divulge my location, but I’d already escaped at that point. Only Draco and his cronies had known.
And there was my answer. "Malfoy actually told you?" I blurted. "I don’t believe it! He actually told you that he had me prisoner?"
Snape turned back to look at the remains of the building as another section fell in. "He believed I would be interested in watching you perish."
I couldn’t help it. I just laughed. "And you came drifting over the continent to help me escape, to pay off your debt to the Potters. Only I didn’t need your help. I don’t need your help, and I never will need your help. I guess you’re screwed."
The sheer number of expressions that flickered over the ghost’s face was impressive. Unable to do anything in the face of reality, Snape turned his back on me and faded, leaving me alone with my mirth. It would appear that the life debt was the only thing binding him to this world. I wasn’t about to give up something as useful as that. Hell, if the guy had treated me with respect, or even just without disrespect, I’d have happily released him from his obligation. But because of how he treated me as a child, the debt was an asset I would take advantage of when it suited me.
It was early afternoon when the bus I’d arrived on came back to the village on its return leg. I tagged along behind it while invisible on the broom. It was a major struggle to keep the damned thing on line for seven and a half hours, but we eventually got to a city with a train station. Physically exhausted, I slumped on the uncomfortable station platform waiting for the relevant train. Once onboard, I set up some Muggle repellent wards to stop anyone bothering me for a ticket. With that, I cast one more healing spell on my side, and then simply fell into an exhausted sleep.
The trip back to Germany was uneventful, though I did have to listen to my stomach issue complaints for a full day, which made the trip seem so much longer. I hadn’t been truly hungry since I’d left Privet Drive for my apprenticeship two and a half years ago. I could honestly say I didn’t care for the experience, no matter how familiar.
I swapped trains twice, and finally found myself in Berlin. Slipping through customs at the various borders was fairly easy, since I arrived the Muggle way, but I headed straight for the magical community just in case I was marked.
It was late in the afternoon by the time I stepped through the barrier, noting that a great many people were in the process of finishing the business of the day. I made a few enquiries of one of the shopkeepers, and headed towards the British Ministry of Magic’s Consulate. Judging from the number of brass plaques on the faÃ§ade of the building, a great many countries shared the space inside for their diplomatic functions. Either the inside of the building had been thoroughly expanded, or they operated on some sort of timeshare arrangement.
Definitely the former, I thought as I stepped in and blinked at the grandeur. Someone had gone to great lengths to make sure that anyone entering the rather drab building (on the outside at least) was suitably impressed at the internals. Gold leaf filigree in the walls and ceiling sparkled in the light of the massive crystal chandelier hanging unsupported in the centre of the mezzanine. I’d guess that nearly a ton of crystals floated serenely near the ceiling, rotating gently in the slight breeze.
I shook my head with a slight smile at the sight. Whatever faults the wizarding world has, they definitely have their artists. There was beauty in magic that the Muggle world missed out on, to their eternal detriment. Of course, the way the Wizarding world was going, they were going to be missing out on the great technological leaps forward the Muggle world was making every year. It didn’t seem to me to be a fair trade.
Finding the British Embassy was a simple task, though it did involve a bit of a trek up several flights of stairs. The witch manning the reception desk did a reasonably good impression of maintaining an air of imperturbability in the presence of a celebrity, only giving me a lingering look before leaving to announce my arrival to the on duty official. I did notice that on her return however, her lips were distinctly redder, her makeup had been touched up, and her hair was a lot tidier. She had also undone a couple of buttons on her blouse. Real subtle, lady.
I was shown to a waiting room, which was sparsely appointed, but comfortable. Obviously, the Ministry didn’t go in for the whole â€˜pampering of paperless citizens’ thing, at least not those who managed to find themselves with no money and no passport while outside of the country. Several old, well-loved armchairs and couches lined three of the walls. There were several older publications slowly disintegrating on the bookshelves on the fourth wall, but the Daily Prophet from the last few days was available. I took the time to read through the paper, just so that I had an understanding of what the majority of the British Magical population had been told they were thinking since I left the country. A few minutes after settling down, my new fan appeared once more with a tray of refreshments large enough to supply a small army.
I thanked her from the bottom of my stomach (earning a wonderfully rosy blush and an inviting, "You’re welcome"), and fell to the biscuits, chocolates, cake and tea much like a man who hadn’t eaten much in the past three days. As the flavours hit my tongue, I just knew that the selection here had to have been taken from the VIP refreshments cupboard. I couldn’t imagine that the Ministry would cough up for Belgian and Swiss chocolates for your everyday bumbling tourists.
Eventually, once I’d gorged myself stupid, a harried looking bureaucrat hustled through the secure door, muttering to himself while carrying a sheaf of parchment. "Right, Mr, um…" he started, looking down at the top paper. Suddenly, his eyes widened, and his head snapped up and around to look straight at me. "Mister Potter!" he exclaimed with a startled squeak.
I looked around the room, carefully noting the absence of anyone else. "Yes," I said redundantly. I guess the receptionist neglected to verbally tell him who was waiting.
He suddenly went from harried to flustered. "I, um, well, er…"
I rolled my eyes, wondering not for the first (or, I suspect, the last) time about the Wizarding World’s fascination with an event that happened almost two decades ago. "Can we get on with this?"
That seemed to snap him back to the present. "Right! Yes! Um, you, er, you need a portkey back to England?" he stuttered.
I nodded slowly and deliberately, thinking that if he stopped at my name on the form he was holding, he probably didn’t get to the reason for my visit.
His eyes narrowed at some inner thought. "I can organise that, but it usually takes a few hours to process. Please bear with me, and I shall do what I can to expediate your return."
Without waiting for my answer, he trundled away, without giving me the opportunity to tell him not to bother. I sighed, thinking that it may have been quicker, if not easier to just pawn off my invisibility robe and bought a portkey home. It had taken nearly two and a half hours last time I’d tried to transfer money from Gringotts, and that was with Bill’s help. The goblins were notoriously difficult when it came to withdrawing money from a vault when the owner was not present, which I suppose I should be grateful for. But it was damned inconvenient on occasion.
The unnamed Embassy minion stuck his head through the door. "Um, I’m just going to make a firecall to see if I can get authority to create you a portkey now, Mr. Potter, rather than going through the official channels. We should have you home within half an hour."
I blinked in surprise, and nodded gratefully. Perhaps there was an upside to fame. But even if being famous for an event beyond my control managed to get me home in one second, it wouldn’t be worth the sort of crap I’ve had to put up with over the years. Once more, the man waddled off in search of someone to say â€˜Okay’.
In fact, he took a bit longer than that. It was nearly two hours after his first firecall that he finally came back and handed me a small piece of string. "I’m so sorry for the delay, Mr. Potter. Arrangements have been made at the portkey terminus for your arrival. There are several people anxiously waiting to see you," he said with a conniving smile and a gleam in his eye.
I mentally groaned. I was right the first time. Fame is a fucking inconvenience. I wondered just how much the bureaucrat would be paid by the inevitable gaggle of press and politicians who would no doubt be waiting for me at my destination.
Still, I didn’t want to hang around here any longer than absolutely necessary. While travelling around Europe had been fun for the most part, I’d succeeded in my goal of locating Riddle’s remaining Horcruxes. I reached out and took the portkey. As it activated, I thought that I didn’t really want to Journey around for a while.
Perhaps I did have some talent for divination after all…
And so finishes Journeyman Potter. Master Potter will close the remaining story arcs, and hopefully provide some enjoyment for all my readers.