sexstories.com


Introduction:

harry potter
Couple of short chapters now. To make up for the last two long ones.
________________________________________


“One… two… THREE!”

Harry yanked up on the broom and tried like hell to hold on as it shot into the air. He saw the stands come into view and screamed, throwing his weight up and scraping over the top by an inch. He tried to slow down but the broom didn’t seem to hear him. He was forced to try and control it as it careened along the ground.

All he could do was try to aim the thing like a bull in a rodeo as it bucked and vibrated at sixty miles per hour. He crashed near the dock and stumbled to his feet. He stuck the Chimera to a tree with a quick fixing charm and added a really nasty curse for anyone who tried to take it.

He dashed down the dock and stopped by the walkway up the Durmstrang ship.

“Ayauhteotl!” Harry waved his wand and a multicolor mist appeared over the walk, revealing the wards. Harry dipped his wand into each node and spun it around like a baton, watching the changing color.

It was like a combination lock, he just had to match them up… done!

Harry ran through the mist and dashed up to the back of the ship and grabbed the wheel. If his ten minutes spent reading up on magical boats was anything to go on the starter should be… somewhere?

Harry glanced from the incomprehensible mass of Victorian-looking knobs and switches on the wide control panel to the three dimensional, ships wheel attached to the middle of a gyroscope.

Bugger… wait! There were little panels above the controls. Labels… labels in German. Bugger. The only one he could read was the ship’s name, in bold copperplate above the controls.

The Spirit of Njordr

“Well Spirit, just you and me.” Harry put his hand on the throttle, the only control he could recognize. He pushed it forward and the ship surged away from the dock. He pushed it further and felt the wind flow through his hair. Ok, this was cool. He rounded the little cape and the stands of students came into view. Harry grinned, he reached into his robe and pulled out a leather pirate’s hat.

If he was going down he could at least put on a good show.
*


“THAT LITTLE BASTARD! HE‘S STOLEN MY BLOODY SHIP!”

“I believe I remember hearing you say he could take it out whenever he wanted Igor.” Dumbledore commented airily. “I believe Harry takes that kind of thing seriously.”
*


Harry grabbed the ships wheel and threw it forwards sharply. It rolled forward, swinging in its cradle, and the ship’s nose dipped down into the water. Harry gritted his teeth as the Spirit slid down into lake. The water arched up over the top like it was sluicing over a glass ceiling. Harry forced himself to breath as the last of the sky disappeared and he was surrounded by water.

Harry tried not to think about it. He raised his head and whistled at the dark water. After a long moment a glowing shape appeared and came in close to the ship.

“Miss Myrtle,” Harry waved his hat at the floating figure. “Lead the way!”

“Aye, aye!” Myrtle flew away towards the front of the ship. Harry angled the odd wheel to follow her. The darkness carried on endlessly, Harry could feel the water all around him. Harry tried to keep himself distracted , unfortunately there wasn’t much there to distract him. He glanced over the ship, it wasn’t that large, it was thin with a single mast. A… cutter… possibly? His reading last night hadn’t been very extensive on ship identification. He’d skipped right on to the basics of steering magical ships.

Great… lot of help that had been.

The ship had four catapults, two on each side. Probably already planning a dramatic victory celebration. The rest of the ship was spotless, varnished and cleaned down to the last brass railing. Harry grinned, now he knew why Karkaroff had brought so many students when it was obvious he favored Krum. He was using them to swab the decks.

Harry raised himself up on his tiptoes and looked out past the end of the ship and past the glowing specter out in front. There was a forest of seaweed, or lake-weed maybe, stretching out in front of them. It was tall enough to arch up over the ship, Harry groaned as he saw Myrtle disappear into it.

As the ship moved into the forest the kelp (lake-kelp?) slid through the water-wards around the ship and fell onto the decks. Without the water they couldn’t stay upright and fell like wet spaghetti. As the ship moved forward they slid off again just as new ones fell down. It was creepy, like the lake was trying to grab hold of the ship with slippery fingers.

A shoal of silvery fish surrounded the ship, shimmering like a rainbow. Then they changed and flickered in waves of yellow and green, rippling in bands across the shoal. Harry wondered idily whether they were magic or they were just catching the light.

Suddenly the shoal broke apart and swam away from the ship, disappearing in an instant into the darkness behind the ship.

“Oh, that can‘t be good.” Harry looked around desperately for what they were running from. Out ahead Myrtle had disappeared into the gloom. A shadow passed over the ship, moving fast through the water. Harry’s eyes flicked up but it had already disappeared into the seaweed. “Bugger…”

Harry’s hand moved to the throttle and he pushed it forward sharply, the ship surged forward. Hopefully away from the thing. Something green flashed through the kelp to the left, keeping pace. Harry hit the throttle harder and the wheel began to vibrate. He held on grimly as the weeds shot past faster and faster. The green thing kept pace, swinging closer through the underwater jungle. Suddenly it jerked towards him, Harry swung the wheel wildly but the green thing kept coming. It shot through the wards and slapped down onto the decks.

Harry slammed the throttle back, bringing the ship to a stop and stepped out from behind the steering column. The green thing straightened up, dripping, it looked like a weird horse standing up on its hind legs, standing at least eight feet tall. It’s arms ended in claws instead of hooves, giant three fingered claws. It’s horse head… no more like a muzzly dog… was covered in lank hair, like it was part of the seaweed.

“Are you a Grindylow or a Kelpie?” Harry backed away from the thing as it stomped towards him. “Or maybe a Kappa? God I wish I‘d paid attention to Lupin.”

The thing lifted it’s head and brayed, showing Harry that it’s teeth were sharp, serrated fangs.

“Stupefy!” Harry jabbed his wand at the thing, the spell flew out and impacted into it’s chest. It didn’t even flinch. Instead it screeched and lunged towards him like a bull, Harry rolled out of the way and it crashed into the floor in a mass of flailing wet limbs.

“If I knew what you were I could fight you!” Harry yelled in frustration as the thing lurched to its feet and came after him at a run. Harry spun and fled off the back deck, dashing out of reach of the creatures flailing claws. He put the mast between him and it. It lurched left, Harry matched it. It turned right, Harry matched it again and it screeched like a banshee.

“Acerbus cus…” Harry bit back on the last word. If he went to dark magic and they found out he was out of the tournament. Harry looked the creature over, heavily muscled forearms and torso, ribs like armored ridges, thin legs… Thin legs on hooves.

“Ferio!” Harry aimed at the hooves and they slid on the wet wood. The creature went down again, crashing headfirst into the floor. It scrambled up again, it’s feet slipping like a cat on linoleum, and hissed. A moment later it was down on all fours, it’s claws scraping on the deck.

“Clever bastard.” Harry jumped backwards as it bounded towards him. He had to duck under it’s swiping claws as it tried to take his head off. A moment later he felt his back hit wood, he was out of room.

The thing reared up triumphantly, bringing an arm back to deliver the final blow.

“Accio!” Harry aimed under the thing’s arm at the shinning throttle. The Spirit shot forward, throwing both Harry and the thing off their feet. The creature dropped onto one of the catapults, its head resting on the cradle.

“Diffindo!” Harry aimed at the rope holding the catapult down and it snapped up, bringing the creatures head with it. There was a hideous crack and the creature’s neck twisted back. It stumbled backwards and dropped to the floor, it’s limbs flailing. Harry watched as it shook then grew still, it’s head pointing gruesomely backwards.

“Whatever you are you‘re dead now.” Harry stumbled back to the wheel and pulled the throttle back to a more reasonable speed. Myrtle had disappeared, Harry whistled again but she didn’t rematerialize. Oh great… wait…

There was a screechy warbling sound coming out of the water. It sounded like the song from the egg. Harry spun the wheel to the right to follow the sound and pushed the throttle forward. The Spirit kept on sliding through the black water, except it wasn’t as black now. Harry left the controls and went to the side.

Ahead and down there were lights appearing out of the murk. Little lights moving, flickering, some arranged in lines. The lights followed a pattern, laid out along promenades or grouped in clumps near buildings. A city, a city underwater. Harry spun the wheel forward and the Spirit began to descend.

Figures swam up to meet the ship as it floated down, figures with grey, scaly skin and fishes tails.

“Mermaids?” Harry glanced at the mythical creatures keeping pace with him. Several of them were carrying mean looking weaponry and had weird tribal tattoos standing out in red against their pale grey skin. They didn’t look like the Disney kind of mermaid, not unless they upped the rating.

Harry aimed for the biggest concentration of lights, in the middle of the city. There was some kind of town square, hundreds of the fish people were clustered around something in the middle. Harry swung the ship around to get a better look.

There were three human figures tied up with thick, kelpy ropes to a boulder in the center of the square and an open space where it looked like another figure had been. Harry squinted, trying to identify them through the murk. Two he didn’t recognize but the third jumped out at him, her blond hair making a dandelion crown around her head, Susan Bones.

Harry cursed as he realized he couldn’t actually get the ship down to them without crushing them in the process. He stuck an arm through the ward, wand outstretched.

“Relashio!” The ropes around Susan released and she drifted free away from the stone. “Accio!” Harry aimed again and her body changed direction and came shooting towards him. The moment she fell through the wards she began spluttering and looking around in shock.

“Harry where the hell… are we on a ship?”

“No, it‘s your imagination.” Harry pulled her to her feet. “You ok?”

“Yeah, I think…” Susan looked herself over. “Dumbledore said we wouldn‘t wake up until we reached the surface.”

“Ward must have screwed with it.” Harry shrugged and hurried back to the controls. He lifted the ship away from the square and sent it off the way he’d came as quickly as he could.

“What the hell is that!”

“What…?” Harry looked where Susan was pointing. “Oh… Dead Kappa.”

“That’s not a Kappa!” Susan said, her voice high with shock. “Kappa‘s are about this tall.” She put her hand at her shoulder to demonstrate.

“Ok… It‘s a tall Kappa? It ate lots of spinach? Is this really the most important thing happening right now?”

Susan shook her head then frowned and pointed ahead of them.

“And what‘s that?” She was pointing at a moving, eel like shape in the dark beyond the bow.

“What’s… damn it!” Harry whirled the wheel to avoid it but they were already too close. It splashed through the wards and landed on the deck. Harry ran up, wand outstretched and ready for a fight, then burst out laughing. “You look ridiculous!”

“This isn‘t funny Potter.” Malfoy canceled his bubblehead charm, dragged a clump of seaweed off his head and threw it at Harry, who dodged easily. Beside him Pansy was waking up and staring blearily at her surroundings. The eel thing looked like it was made of shadows and seemed to dissolving into the floor now that it was out of the water. Malfoy watched it disappear and cursed. “Do you know how long it‘ll take to make another one of them?”

“Not my fault.” Harry shrugged.

“You ran into me!”

“Yeah well… um…” Harry paused, trying to think of any way in which it was not his fault. Malfoy saved him the trouble.

“What the hell is that!”

“Spinach Kappa.”

“Are you crazy Potter that‘s clearly a Kelpie!”

“Well if you knew the answer why did you ask?”

“I was wondering why a Kelpie with a broken neck was decomposing on the deck of your sh…” Malfoy looked around, seeming to take in his surroundings for the first time. “YOU STOLE A SHIP!”

“Technically it‘s not theft, it‘s piracy.”

“Potter you-”

“Guys!” Susan interrupted. “Shouldn‘t someone be steering?”

Harry looked at the unattended control panel then back at Malfoy. Harry rolled his eyes.

“Girls,” Harry shrugged. “Always complaining.”

Harry grinned at Susan’s outraged expression and trotted up the ships wheel. But as he got there a glowing figure materialized out of the blackness behind them.

“Harry You have to get out of here!” Myrtle yelled, her whole ectoplasmic body vibrating in fear.

“Myrtle where did you-”

“Harry just go!” Myrtle screamed, glancing back behind her. “It‘s the giant squid!”

Harry followed her gaze, there was something moving out there certainly… something big but… NO!

Harry jerked the wheel just in time as a massive fleshy tentacle came out of nowhere and crashed through the railing, raking the deck to Harry’s left.

“Get bellow!” Harry yelled to his passengers as he threw the throttle to full. The ship surged forward just as another arm tried to grab at the mast. Harry saw a massive eye through the darkness to the left, giant and red and bloodshot and staring right at him. Harry jerked the wheel down and the Spirit rose past the monster, the eye disappearing into the murk. Suddenly an arm came out of nowhere and wrapped around the bow of the ship, spinning them around. Harry drew his wand but before he could use it a bolt of silver light impacted the tentacle and it flailed away, smoking.

Harry saw Malfoy stumble away from the front of the ship and dash towards him.

“What the hell is going on!”

“Giant squid!” Harry yelled back.

“I know that! I mean this!” Malfoy waved at the complicated control panel. “Do you even know how to pilot this ship?”

“No.”

“You idiot!” Malfoy swung himself in front of the controls. His hands began flying over the weird knows and buttons, including all the ones Harry hadn’t had the guts to touch. “You could have killed us all!”

“I don‘t recall inviting you on board the good ship squid-bait!”

“Shut up and do as I say.” Malfoy ordered, still working at the controls. A moment later Harry felt a surge of power from the ship. They jumped forward, Harry could even see light ahead.

“Port!”

Looked like daylight…

“Steer to port!”

Harry jerked to life in time to jam the wheel to the left just as a massive shape appeared in the water in front of them. Harry registered a parrot-like beak and flailing tentacles before they slid past and hit the surface.

The ship broached through the surface like a whale, shedding water in great sheets. Harry clung on to try to retain some semblance of control. They hit back into the lake with a massive plume of spray, a moment later the giant squid exploded out of the lake nearby, it instantly spun around and headed for them.

“Hard starboard!”

Harry complied and soon they were racing away from the thing. Harry looked ahead and swore.

“Malfoy there‘s a cliff!”

“I know, keep going.” Malfoy was bent over the controls.

“We‘re gonna hit it!”

“What‘s the matter Potter?” Malfoy glanced up grinning. “Thought you liked this sort of thing?”

“I really hate you Draco.” Harry gritted his teeth and aimed the ship directly at the cliff. Behind them the squid was keeping pace just a few meters behind. “Malfoy…”

“Not yet.” Malfoy’s hand was hovering over a big red button.

“Malfoy…!”

“Not yet!”

Harry could see seagull nest in the cliff face. Another hundred meters. He could see seagulls. Another hundred meters. He could see eggs!

“NOW!” Malfoy smashed the button as Harry steered furiously to the side. He could hear the anchor chains rolling out and felt a loud crash as the ship came to a stop. A moment later the squid shot past, a meter away from their starboard hull.

There was another crash and the seagulls took flight, a giant flock of white leaving the cliff. The giant squid surfaced, right next to the cliff, its eyes were rolling listlessly and it’s arms floated uselessly behind it.

“Knocked itself out.” Harry grinned and stumbled over to the rail. “Knocked itself cold on the cliff.” Harry sighed in relief.

“Thanks Malfoy, I really-”

“Harry?” Harry turned around, instead of Malfoy he saw Susan standing there. “He‘s gone.”

“Gone? What do you mean…” Harry followed her pointing finger. “… Son of a bitch!”

Malfoy was surfing away over the water on a disk of light, Pansy clumped by his feet.

“We need to catch him up!” Harry turned to the steering wheel but stopped. The steering wheel was incased in ice. “Son of a bitch!”

“We could just swim for it Harry.” Susan suggested, shrugging. “We wouldn‘t win but at least we‘d finish.”

“I refuse to lose to that backstabbing bastard!” Harry cast around for another way to get back to the starting line. There had to be a way, there had to be… ah!

“No! Harry NO!” Susan yelled as she saw what he was looking at. “No way in hell!”

“Come on!” Harry said laughing as he pulled her over onto the catapult‘s cradle. “What could go wrong?”

“Are you crazy! No Harry!”

Harry grinned, and cut the cable.
*


They shot into the air. Harry could feel the pressure of the acceleration everywhere, he could see the beach approaching fast, too fast. He raised his wand against the wind and yelled the first spell he could think of.

“Eizuckerpeitsche!”

CRUNCH!

Harry tried to breath as his stomach spun in circles. He opened his eyes to see walls of crackly white. Susan was in his arms, holding him tight around the waist with her head buried in his robes.

“It‘s ok.” Harry whispered. “We‘ve landed now.”

“We‘ve…?” Susan poked her head up and looked around. She still looked a little frazzled, her eyes darting every direction. “What did we land in?”

“Meringue.”

“Meringue?”

“Yes.”

“Oh…” She was breathing heavily and still hadn’t let go of his waist. “Harry?”

“Yes.”

“Never do that to me again.”

“Ok.” Harry smiled. “I promise I‘ll never shoot you out of a catapult into a pile of meringue again.”

“This isn’t funny.” Susan said angrily, her face flushing red.

“You see me laughing?”

She was still breathing heavily, her hair falling around her face, her brown eyes staring into his, her flushed lips were so close…
*


Hermione jumped up in shock as Harry impacted into the giant mound of meringue that had appeared on the beach. A moment later the crowd was rushing from the stands, towards the white mountain. Out in front was a blond woman, yelling at the top of her voice.

Susan Bones’ mother? Hermione guessed.

The crowd reached the meringue and Mrs Bones began digging into it madly.

“Susan! Are you in there? Susan!” She was pulling off huge chunks, rapidly burrowing into the middle of the mound.

“Susan! Are you Ok? Can you hear me Su… HARRY POTTER WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU‘RE DOING!”

Harry’s response went down in Hogwarts history.

“I am snogging your daughter, what does it LOOK LIKE I‘m doing!?”
________________________________________


A recent medical study indicated that each review you leave adds three weeks to your lifespan.

It's true.

... no it's not. Leave a review anyway.

________________________________________
Ok, forget about the short chapters, decided against it.
________________________________________


Harry felt his ear grabbed painfully and a moment later he was dragged from his meringue cocoon. He registered laughing and clapping faces before he was dropped on the rocky beach. He stood up and tried to brush off the white powder clinging to every inch of his body.

“Don‘t you have anything to say for yourself?”

Harry turned and looked up into the face of Mrs Bones. Behind her Susan was looking at the ground, blushing furiously.

“Yeah…” Harry grinned and patted his head. “Did you see my hat anywhere in there?”

“You little-”

“It‘s red, kind of like a pirate hat. It had a feather in it but that may have blow of or-”

“I‘ll get you!” Mrs Bones lunged at him and Harry had to dance out of the way.

“Doris Bones!” Dumbledore’s voice rang out over the crowd and Harry turned in time to see him striding purposefully through the pack of students. Mrs Bones stood straight like a child caught with sweets and Harry relaxed. The Headmaster walked closer and came to a stop in front of the three of them. “I am sorry to put a stop to this entertaining spectacle but we will be needing our champion back.”

Harry shot a smile at Susan before walking towards Dumbledore.

“And we will give him back after we are done.”

Harry winced but kept walking.
*


The champions waited in a roped off area while the judges deliberated. Harry winced and rubbed his ear, it really hurt. Trust his luck to have no injury during the task but get a twisted ear as soon as he hit land.

None of the champions spoke, Fleur kept rubbing a bandage on her arm and whispering under her breath. She sounded almost like she was praying. Krum was just staring straight ahead, moping at coming in last. And Malfoy? Malfoy was odd… even though he’d reached shore less than a minute after Harry he looked downcast, his shoulders hung limp and he kept shooting Harry glances full on… Sadness? Guilt? Envy? It was impossible to tell.

Harry looked over at the judges but it looked like they were still stuck in deliberation. The only one he could hear was Karkaroff, who was yelling and gesturing at the ship, still anchored out in the lake. Mr Crouch had a book open and was pointing to something, speaking quickly. Dumbledore stood to one side, occasionally commenting. Madam Maxim was sat to one side, apparently not paying attention. Perhaps they had already decided Fleur’s mark.

Stealing a ship Harry?

Harry closed his eyes and tried to stop a giggle escaping his mouth. Pythea’s voice in his head was light and good humored, it sounded like she was only just stopping herself from laughing as well.

Was that the best you could come up with?

“Pirating a ship.” Harry thought, grinning. “Why does everyone get that wrong?”

You are insane Harry. In the best possible way.

“Thank you.” Harry opened his eyes and tried to pick her out of the crowd but he couldn’t find her. “Where are you?”

Getting ready to leave. Pythea’s voice took on a mournful tone. I’ve been invited to a dinner in London tonight and we’ll be leaving after that. I’m afraid I won’t get another chance to see you. I’m sorry Harry, I can’t get out of it.

“It‘s alright Thea.” Harry nodded. “I understand. So this is goodbye? Until summer I mean.”

Harry… Pythea trailed off, Harry could almost hear her sigh. Yes until summer.

“Is… is there something else?” Harry asked warily.

I… I wish I could tell you Harry. Just keep the necklace on. Please…

“Ok, I understand.” Harry smiled sadly. “Goodbye Thea.”

Goodbye Harry.

“Attention everyone!” Dumbledore said, his voice magically amplified. Harry was jerked out of his mind by the Headmasters voice and felt a little empty as Pythea’s presence disappeared. “We, the judges, have come to a decision.”

Harry heard the whole student body go still.

“For Viktor Krum who used a partial transformation to great effect but unfortunately was unable to free his hostage, we award ten points.”

Krum made no movement, he had obviously been expecting something like that.

“For Fleur Delacour demonstrating a good bubblehead charm, and who retrieved her Hostage just a few moments past the time limit, we award twenty points!”

Fleur nodded, smiling.

“There has been some… discussion over the next two marks.” Dumbledore stopped and cleared his throat before continuing. “Mr Malfoy‘s used a bubblehead charm and subsequent conjuring to retrieve his hostage well within the time limit. Although he rode on Mr Potter‘s transportation for a short time we have been told that this was accidental and so should not count against him. We have awarded him thirty points!”

A small, green robed, portion of the crowd went wild with celebration.

“We have also discussed Mr Potter‘s conduct.” Dumbledore looked over and met Harry‘s eyes. It was impossible to tell what the old man was thinking. “Mr Potter brought his hostage back first, it is true. However, although Mr Crouch has informed us that Mr Potter‘s conduct was not strictly illegal, we have decided that it was dangerous, irresponsible and not in keeping with the spirit of the competition. Therefore we have awarded him no points!”

“Oh come on!” Harry heard someone yell, another voice booed and a moment later the cry was taken up across the whole crowd (except the Slytherins and the students of the other schools). Dumbledore put his hands out for quiet and people quieted down, there was still some angry muttering though.

“I am sorry.” Fleur turned to Harry and smiled in commiseration. “I think zey were to ‘arsh on you.”

“I‘m just happy to still be here.” Harry grinned. Fleur looked confused. “You know, instead of being arrested.”

“Ah,” Fleur nodded and tossed her hair. “But zey would not put ze boy who lived in jail.”

“Not permanently.” Harry shrugged and turned. “Well Malfoy that makes you the… Malfoy?” Harry cast around but the blond haired boy was nowhere to be seen.

“Oh well.” Harry shrugged and turned to the crowd. “Party in Gryffindor tower!”
*


On the way back to retrieve the Chimera with the marauders Harry stopped out of sight of the crowd and trotted down to the edge of the lake.

“Harry?” Ron called out after him. “What are you doing?” Harry ignored him. As he reached the waters edge he cupped his hands to his mouth and yelled,

“I beat you you stupid lake! Yeah you, and everything you could throw at me! I. BEAT. YOU!” Harry threw his arms in the air and laughed.
*


Harry juggled four empty butterbeer bottles in the middle of the laughing crowd in Gryffindor tower. He flipped one behind his back and just managed to catch it on the end of his fingertips.

Either he was out of practice or he had had too many bottles himself. Or maybe it had been whatever the green stuff the Weasley twins had brought was?

“We need more butterbeer!” Someone shouted near the back of the tower.

“No we don‘t!” Fred yelled back, unveiling another crate.

“Stop trying to take credit for the catering Fred,” Harry laughed. “We all know it was Dobby.”

“Spoilsport!”

Harry spun the bottles back down to earth and collapsed against the wall near a window. It was one of the few unoccupied spots in the entire tower. Initially People had questioned why Harry was celebrating having not scored at all. Harry then explained to them that although he had failed on the points fron the had won on the unspeakable-awesomeness front and that was even better.

It seemed like all of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw had squeezed into the tower along with the native Gryffindors. The party had spilled up the tower with people lounging around in the bedrooms and landings (Endless fun was gained from letting the other students try to climb the staircase to the girls rooms). Harry had even seen a group of students sitting in one of the bathrooms, playing some sort of forfeit game that involved a lot of giggling, clapping and intermittent green slime. Probably a good thing they were in there come to think of it.

“Great Party Harry!” Someone yelled from across the room. Harry couldn’t see who. “Yeah great!” Someone closer shouted. Harry thought it might have been Cho. There was only one thing missing from this party that would have made it perfect.

That blond someone had been dragged home by her ear so her mother could give her a stern talking-to about her choice of boys.

Harry felt kind of bad about getting Susan in trouble. In retrospect he could have handled the situation with more delicacy, or any delicacy. But it would probably blow over, even if not it was Susan he was dating, not her mother.

So it couldn’t possibly be a problem.

Surprisingly when he had remarked on this to Hermione she had doubled over laughing.

“What?” Harry had said, as his friend held her stomach in pain. “What?”

“Nothing Harry. Nothing.” Hermione had patted him on the shoulder, still chuckling. “It‘s nice to know that you‘re naive about some things.”

Harry shrugged it away, it was probably a girl thing.

Speaking of which… Harry saw a figure sitting out by the front of the school, a figure who looked like it had blond hair. Maybe her parents had let her come home early?

Harry pushed himself up and shouldered his way through the crowd towards the portrait hole. He grabbed a few butter-beers on the way and fended off any questions about where he was going,

“Just to the bathroom.” Harry grinned. “The one up there‘s covered in slime.”

Harry slipped out and closed the portrait firmly behind him before trotting away down the corridor. He effortlessly slid behind a statue as Filch ambled past before proceeding down to the entrance Hall. The main door’s were closed at this time of night so Harry left by a side door and skirted the edge of the castle until the main doors came into view. The figure waiting there was not the one he had expected.

Malfoy was sat there, head in his hands and absolutely still about halfway up the steps. For a moment Harry thought he might have been petrified before he saw the Slytherin shift his feet. Harry ghosted up silently until he was next to the other boy. Malfoy wasn’t crying or anything, no angry shaking or despaired muttering. He just seemed… numb.

“We got to stop meeting like this.” Harry’s voice sounded especially loud in the night air and Malfoy’s head jerked up. Harry could almost see the moment it took for Malfoy to put his usual scowl back in place, like a mask over everything.

“What are you doing here Potter?” He sneered, but it didn’t have it’s usual kick. Even it felt muted.

“Saw you from the tower.” Harry shrugged. “Thought you were Susan come back early.”

Malfoy snorted and shook his head. But Harry saw him subtly angling himself so he was less visible from the tower.

“Why are you here then?” Harry asked. “I assume there‘s some sort of party in Slytherin?”

“Isn‘t there a party in Gryffindor?”

“Avoiding the question.” Harry grinned. “Nice.”

“Just go away Potter.” Malfoy shook his head and sunk back down to the steps. Harry ignored him and dropped down onto the seat next to him. A long moment passed in silence.

“Did Karkaroff give you any trouble about the ship?” Malfoy said suddenly.

“Making me pay for the repairs.” Harry shook his head. “God knows how much it‘ll co-”

“I‘ll deal with it.” Malfoy cut him off. “My father has people for that sort of thing.”

Harry took an appraising moment before the bulb clicked on in his head.

“Ah!” Harry smiled. “I was wondering.”

“Wondering what?”

“Why the giant squid attacked us.” Harry leant back and lay down on the steps behind him. “It‘s an ancient protector of Hogwarts, trained to only attack dark magic. And I know I wasn‘t doing any dark magic…”

Malfoy bowed his head, but Harry could swear there was a sliver of a smile at the edge of his lips.

“That eel thing you were riding when I first saw you? That thing that dissolved into the deck?” Harry guessed. “I‘m thinking you don’t want anyone to find traces of it whilst they‘re repairing the ship. Maybe get you kicked out of the competition, at the very least.”

After a moment Malfoy started chuckling, just a wry little noise, but it was there.

“Very good Potter.” Malfoy lay back on the steps as well. “I keep forgetting you‘re actually intelligent.”

“Thank you, I think.” Harry laughed. “Butter-beer?” Harry held out a bottle.

“Thank you.” Malfoy took the bottle and elegantly flicked the cap off with his wand. Harry rolled his eyes and took his off with his teeth. They drunk in silence for a while, the wind whistling through the grass and about the towers of the old castle. Harry could even hear the echoing laughter from Gryffindor tower far above.

“So what is this?” Harry broke the silence. “Are we like friends now or something?”

“We‘re drinking beer together.” Malfoy stated flatly.

“Chums? Buddies?”

Malfoy rolled his eyes.

“Co-conspirators? Friendly rivals?” Harry grinned. “Agreed non-combatants?”

“We are drinking beer together.” Malfoy repeated. “And you‘re talking too much.”

“Emo git.”

“Scarhead.”

“Snake.”

“Orphan.”

“Peroxide.”

“I looked that up you know.” Malfoy commented, bringing down a strand of his hair to stare at. “I think I‘m more a platinum blonde.”

“Always about money with you isn‘t it.”

Malfoy shrugged and silence descended again.

“So…” Harry broached carefully. “Are you gonna tell me why you were sitting out here in the first place?”

Malfoy didn’t answer, just stared off into space.

“I mean there must have been a reason…”

“Why would I tell you.” Malfoy said under his breath, his old venom dripping from the words. Harry could see the masks pulling back into place.

“No reason… just… well something strikes me.” Harry wondered if this was the right course to take but kept going anyway. “Your best friends are Crabbe and Goyle right? Except they‘re not really the talking-to kind of friends. Actually they don‘t seem as much like friends as they do like… employees I guess. They work for you.”

Malfoy remained silent, staring out into the Scottish night.

“And I haven‘t seen you hanging around Pansy as much lately.” Harry shrugged. “Good choice on your part that… And anyway even when you were together you didn’t really seem to talk. She was more an ornament then a girlfriend I think. I don‘t know much about your Quidditch mates but none of them are in the same year as you are they? And I know you don’t talk to anyone outside Slytherin house.”

Malfoy’s grey eyes bored into the darkness as Harry dryly dissected his life.

“And I haven‘t seen many owls coming to your bit of the breakfast table other than your family‘s eagle owl. You almost never write back. That old woman, Ellen Hayward? You cared about her a lot I think, but she‘s gone now.” Harry took a deep breath. “So the thing is… the point is… the reason you should tell me what’s bothering you, is that you don‘t really have anyone else to tell.”

Malfoy stayed silent for a moment longer then wet his lips.

“Thank you Potter.” His voice broke a little as he was speaking. “That‘s made me feel much better.”

“I didn‘t mean it to come out that that harsh.” Harry shrugged apologetically.

“It was more the was you systematically stripped me of everything that connects me to humanity.”

“That too.”

Malfoy shook his head ruefully and downed the rest of his drink.

“I can‘t tell you the reason.” Malfoy shook his head. “Not the main one anyway.”

“Then… the minor one?” Harry coaxed.

“You really want to hear?” Malfoy asked, sounding confused.

“This may come as a shock to you blondie, but I don‘t hate you.” Harry grinned. “Anymore…”

“You hated me last year.”

“I humiliated you last year.” Harry smiled evilly. “But I didn‘t hate you. Ginny, now she hated you. And the year before we were practically bestest-buddies.”

“I was your informant in a racist cult.”

“As I said, buddies.” Harry quipped (mentally noting down the fact that Malfoy had referred to it as a racist cult). “Now either stop avoiding the question or at least try and be less obvious about it.”

“It‘s just…” Malfoy took a deep breath. “My father hasn’t written.”

Harry waited for the end if the paragraph before realizing it had already passed.

“That‘s it?” Harry asked incredulously. “Daddy hasn‘t written?”

“I came first in the task!” Malfoy said angrily. “I‘m in first place in the tournament. Surely he has something to say about that. He didn‘t write to me after the first task either.”

“How about when you were chosen as champion?”

“He did write to me then,” Malfoy nodded. “But it was strange, it was like he didn‘t know whether to congratulate me or not.”

“Why do you care?” Harry asked, confused.

“What do you mean ‘why do I care‘?” Malfoy looked shocked. “He‘s my father.”

“Oh, not my field of expertise I guess.” Harry shrugged. “For me family is squarely divided between died-before-I-remember and treated-me-like-crap.” Happy paused. “I suppose it‘s possible that the ones that died before I was born also treated me like crap… unlikely though. Either way I don’t have to care what they think, or would have thought, about me.”

“You don‘t feel any, I don‘t know… compulsion… to live up to their expectations?” Malfoy asked, seeming genuinely curious. “None at all?”

“Nope. Why do you think I never tried to learn to fly?” Harry shrugged. “It‘s the upside to being orphaned.”

“I envy you.” Malfoy said, shaking his head.

“There are a couple of downsides as well.” Harry replied dryly. “You‘ll never have to learn how to use newspaper as an insulator.”

“You didn‘t have to run away from home.” Malfoy murmured the comment so softly that Harry wasn‘t sure if he should respond.

“I chose to.” Harry shrugged. “I could have stayed I guess, but I‘d prefer to have my freedom.”

“I see.” Malfoy looked down into his empty bottle, rolling it idly between his fingers. Harry handed him a full one. “Do you ever regret-”

“No.”

“Right.”

“Do you…” Harry took a deep breath. “Do you ever regret not leaving?”

“What makes you think I‘ve thought about it?” Malfoy said evasively.

“Your line of questioning, your overall demeanor, the fact that I‘ve met your father, the fact that you already said you envy me.” Harry shrugged. “Lots of things.”

“You haven‘t been legilimizing me have you?” Malfoy said angrily.

“You‘d know. You‘re better at occlumency than me.”

“There are mollusks better at occlumency than you.”

“Magical mollusks?”

“No.”

“Darn,” Harry grinned and shrugged. “Oh well. Anyway, about your father not writing…”

“There‘s nothing I can do I was just-”

“You‘ll just have to win.” Harry said glibly. Malfoy turned to him in shock. “Then he‘ll have to pay attention.” Malfoy stared at him, his eyes wide. Harry just laughed. After a moment Malfoy started laughing too.
*


And it was with that that Harry and Malfoy became friend. There are some things you can’t share and not become friends and your sucky family life is one of them.

It’s not as dramatic as fighting a troll, but in the long run it’s probably a more stable basis for a friendship.
*


“Errg…” Ron groaned, his head in his hands.

“Brother dear, let me ask you something.” Ginny said, making sure to add extra volume to the vowels. “The twins are your brothers, they are your older brothers. That means you have known them your entire life. So let me ask you… WHY THE HELL DID YOU DRINK THAT STUFF THEY GAVE YOU?!”

Ron’s response was calculated and articulate.

“Errrg…. think ‘m gonna throw up.”

“At least Neville has an excuse.”

Neville responded by shuddering and rolling onto the other side of his bed. Harry, who had only had a glass or two of the twins ‘party mix’ and so was in a more human condition chuckled a little.

“Ok I understand why you‘re not sick.” Harry pointed at Ginny. “You didn‘t drink any, neither did Hermione. But why aren‘t Padma and Parvati sick.”

“Oh Hermione mixed us up an antidote.”

“There‘s antidote?” Ron whimpered. “Why not make for us?”

“She‘s mixing up another batch for Neville and Harry now.” Ginny smiled evilly. “You on the other hand… Maybe you should think about apologizing before you start asking for favors.” Ginny got up and left the room, chuckling under her breath.

“Ok,” Harry shared a glance with the bedridden Neville. “Guess they haven‘t totally forgotten about the ball thing.”

In the end Harry palmed his vial of antidote and gave it to Ron. If he hadn’t then the rest of the day would have been very unpleasant. Ron did his best to sound ill so the others didn’t catch on. This might have worked if Ron was not a completely awful actor. It the end Harry just gave up and accepted that the day was going to suck. They had transfiguration anyway so it could never have been good.

As Harry was slinking out of class miserably (McGonnagall had dropped extra homework on him) when he realized that someone had been missing from the lesson.

“Guys, where‘d Susan go?” Harry asked the assembled marauders.

“Um… I heard her parents got permission to keep her home for the week.” Parvati said evasively.

“Oh, hope she‘s back for the Hogsmeade weekend.” Harry shrugged and turned towards their next lesson. Behind him he heard Padma whisper,

“Is he really that oblivious?”

“I think so.” Her sister responded. “In some ways he‘s worse than Ron.”

“Not most ways though.”

“Oh definitely not, but a few.”

“I have quite good ears up here girls.” Harry commented. “So either whisper better or talk in code.”

“Inkthaye heaye ancay derstandunaye isthaye?” Parvarti whispered conspiratorially.

“Brilliant sister,” Padma rolled her eyes. “Just brilliant.”
*


Susan didn’t materialize all week. Harry considered owling her but figured she probably wouldn’t want to be bothered at her parents place. When the Hogsmeade week end finally rolled around Harry waited in the entrance hall for a while, but when she didn’t show up he shrugged and left to meet up with the marauders.

As he neared the castle gate he casually disillusioned himself and slipped behind Filch, who was eyeing everyone going in and out evilly. He removed the enchantment as son as he was out of the caretakers sight, shocking two third years Gryffindors..

“Can you not do that Harry!” Elizabeth snapped at him.

“Sorry,” Harry winked at her and Vanessa. “But it‘s better than crossing the bloody lake.”

“Why don‘t you steal another ship?” Liz quipped back at him.

“Don‘t want to seem formulaic. Need to keep things fresh.”

“You‘ve done the invisibility thing before too.” Vanessa pointed out.

“Good point, I need some new material…” Harry tapped his chin thoughtfully. “Know anywhere I can get a Hippogriff?”

The two girls laughed and Harry shrugged, so long as it worked he‘d keep using disillusionment. Except with mad eye moody. Harry walked the rest of the way into town with the little Slythi-Gryffs then split off as he spotted the marauders.

“Hey guys, anything happening?”

“You probably shouldn’t be here Harry.” Hermione said sharply as Harry sauntered up. “McGonagall’s around town somewhere, and so are Crouch, Madam Maxim and that other judge, Ludo Bagman.”

“Damn,” Harry winced. “That‘s a heavy group.”

“That‘s what we thought.”

“Well if I wear a disguise or something…. Wait, were those four together?”

“Yeah.” Ron answered, sounding confused. “They all went into the Three Broomsticks together. Why?”

“Three Triwizard judges and the de-facto administrator of Hogwarts meeting up?” Harry winked. “I wonder what they could be discussing.”

“You gonna eavesdrop?” Fred asked excitedly.

“We‘ll help!” His twin chimed in happily.

“Harry no!” Hermione pleaded. “You could ruin your chances in the tournament!”

“I‘m already last.” Harry shrugged. “What else can they do?”

“Chuck you out.” Padma suggested. “Come on Harry, your habit of ignoring school rules has expanded to include ignoring both ministry laws and basic common sense. Lets just go back to Hogwarts.”

“No.” Harry shook his head. “And anyway, since I‘m last place I need to take a few risks or I‘ll never win.” Harry turned to the Weasley twins. “You mind scoping out the broomsticks for me?”

“No problem Harry.” Fred winked and a moment later he and his brother disappeared.

Harry left the other marauders and waited outside the pub for Fred and George to reappear. After a moment they walked out, a little too nonchalantly.

“Guys, walk normally.” Harry hissed. “Unless you want everyone to know something’s screwy.”

“Do not lecture the masters.” George put his hand to his chest in mock shock. “We were doing this before you even learnt how to tease a pocket.”

“No you weren‘t.” Harry said flatly. “Unless you were doing it before you were eight.”

“You learnt to pickpocket at eight?” Fred said, scandalized.

“Seven. I‘m younger than you remember.” Harry said impatiently. “Now what did you see in there?”

“All four of them are at a table near the back.” George said, pointing back towards the building and vaguely to the left. His twin just kept shaking his head and muttering ‘seven?’. “It’s one of the private booths.”

“Ok, time to be old Jack Shaky again.” Harry rummaged in his bag and brought out his old man mask and raged cloak. After donning his disguise he shuffled across the street and entered the pub. As soon as he was in he picked out his marks near the back of the room. Not wanting to arouse suspicion he walked up to the counter and ordered a glass of wine. A drink not childish enough to make him look like a child but not strong enough to make him seem like a child wearing a disguise to get alcohol.

With the goldilocks drink in hand he walked creakily over to the next compartment over from the judges and sat down.

“-don’t see where it zey av all gone.” Madam Maxim was saying. “Ze last time I was over hear zey were everywhere.”

“It‘s been a much wetter summer than usual.” McGonnagall said. “That may have cut down their numbers. Flowers blooming later and so forth.”

“Perhaps.”

“It may also be the habitats.” Mr Crouch said knowingly. “Encroachment by the muggles. Their habitat gets destroyed and they can’t go anywhere. They don‘t like to cross woodland you know.”

“Really? I would have thought they did it naturally?” McGonnagall asked.

“Oh no they don‘t like to cross natural barriers, they only like open spaces. Only a few species actually live in the woods.”

Were they talking about butterflies or something? Harry shook his head, this was the most boring conversation he’d ever eavesdropped on.

“Not like acromantula then?” Bagman joked.

“No nothing like them.” Crouch replied humorlessly. “Acromantula will live in any area with a sufficient food source provided they can find a place out of the sun to sleep during the day.”

“It… It was a joke Barty.”

“Oh… I see.”

The four fell silent and Harry mentally labeled Barty Crouch as ‘the conversation killer’. Harry took a sip of his drink and grimaced, did people drink this for pleasure? Harry slumped down on his seat as the four adults in the next compartment began discussing some philosophy book.

“Well, can‘t always overhear good stuff.” Harry thought realistically. “Sometimes people just talk about garbage.”

Harry figured it was safer to wait for them to leave first so he waited, wisely not drinking any more of the acidic drink in front of him. After an hour or so of boring adult discussion he heard them get up and begin to move off.

“Wait a moment Crouch.” A new voice cut in. “Want a word with you.”

Moody?

“What is it Alastor?” McGonagall asked pointedly.

“Just a little personal matter Minerva.” Moody said easily. “See you back up at the castle.” Harry saw the two women and Bagman leaving.

“Did you look into it?” Moody asked bluntly.

“I fail to see what‘s so interesting in-”

“You don‘t need to. Did you find anything?”

“The department of magical transportation hasn‘t reported any unscheduled portkeys in Dorset.”

“That‘s all you did?” Moody said scathingly. “Looked through a few old reports?”

“Look Moody, this is your obsession.” Barty Crouch said smoothly. “We’re busy enough at the ministry with Fudge’s transgressions and Dumbledore causing trouble. I looked into it as a favor but there‘s nothing there. Just a normal, tragic, act of an old woman who wanted to die before her mind went.”

“Did anyone do an autopsy?”

“Moody…”

“Did they?” Moody pressed.

“The coroner examined her at the scene.” Crouch said wearily. “Standard cause-of-death detection spells revealed-”

“Nothing.” Moody cut in. “Because they can‘t tell a murder from a suicide.”

“Moody nothing can tell that.” Crouch said in exasperation. “If you drink poison yourself it has the same effect as if someone doses you with it. No one can detect the difference.”

“Anyone check her potion making equipment?”

“Yes, it had traces of the potion that killed her on it.” Crouch stood suddenly. “Sorry Alastor I looked into this as a favor, but there‘s nothing suspicious. Nothing to investigate, this is just an old lady who made a mistake.”

“Why are you so sure?” Moody said, his voice going low. “Was a time when even a hint of foul play would have had you at it like a bloodhound, but not now. You know something.”

There was silence for a moment, then Harry heard a chair scrape as Mr Crouch sat back down. When he began talking again it was at a whisper that Harry had to strain to hear.

“They found a note.”

“Suicide note?” Moody asked keenly. “Could have been forged.”

“They tested it. It was written by her, with her own free will.” Harry frowned, he hadn’t realized it was possible to test for that, but since Moody seemed to accept it it must be true. Crouch continued, “Obviously they wanted to keep it under wraps.”

“But everyone knows it‘s a suicide.” Moody sounded suspicious. “Everyone with an ounce of wit anyway.”

“It wasn‘t the act itself,” Crouch whispered lower. “It was the contents of the note. The reason she did it.”

“Eh?”

“She killed herself to be with… with…” Crouch took a deep breath, as if just giving voice to this was strenuous. “ … with someone named Mark Lanka, he was her housekeeper until about a year ago. She died to be with the man she loved.”

“Tragic,” Moody said dryly. “But it doesn‘t explain any-”

“It does if you take into account the fact that Mark Lanka was a registered squib.” Crouch explained in a hushed whisper.

“Oh… Oh I see.” There was the creak of a chair as Moody leant back. “And in an old established pure blood family…”

“That sort of behavior would be deeply shameful. Especially considering how respected she was.” Crouch sighed. “It was decided that it was better hidden. She didn‘t deserve to have this stain on her name.”

“Right,” Moody growled. “It was all for her benefit.”

“In any case.” Crouch stood again and pushed his chair in. “The case is closed, please don‘t discuss this with anyone.” Harry heard him leave the pub. A few moments later…

“Heard all that Potter?” Moody said from the other booth. Harry grinned.

“Was it really that big a deal?” Harry asked.

“To them that care it would be.” Harry could almost see Moody shrugging on the other side of the partition. “And the suicide makes it worse.”

“I see. Guess that solves it then.” Harry took another sip of the bitter wine. “Assuming Mr Crouch is telling the truth.”

“Oh I think he is.” Moody said begrudgingly.

“You trust him?” Harry asked, shocked.

“I trust him to be him.” Moody growled. “If there was so much as a hint that dark magic was involved Barty Crouch wouldn’t just walk away.”

“Doesn‘t he work in some dead end office…” Harry scratched his head, trying to remember. “International magical co-operation? Odd place for a dark wizard hunter.”

“Didn‘t used to be. Used to be an auror, like me. Then a senior auror, like me. Then a department head, which I‘m happy to say is unlike me.” Moody sighed sadly. “He was a tough nut but he did what he had to do in those times.”

“What went wrong?”

“Ended up arresting his son.” A gluging sound came from the other side of the partition, like Moody had just drained his mug. “Barty Crouch Jr, and don‘t think the papers didn‘t have a field day with that. ‘Crouch sentences Crouch’, ‘Set a Crouch to catch a Crouch’ , lots of ammunition for those hacks.”

“Hilarious.” Harry commented dryly.

“Anyway, he never quite recovered from the fallout. But he keeps his ear to the ground and a lot of people in the ministry respect him. In any case, I think this case is closed.”

“Guess so.” Harry sighed. “Sorry I wasted your time Professor.”

“That’s alright, you weren’t to know. And besides, keeps me young.”

“Say,” Harry suddenly remembered something. “He said Dumbledore was causing trouble at the ministry. You know what that‘s about?”

“Dumbledore has it in his head that you-know-who is on the way back.” Moody’s voice was so flat it was impossible to detect what he thought about it.

“Haven‘t seen anything in the Prophet.”

“Rita Skeeter‘s death neutered them. They haven‘t even been gouging Fudge that hard over all his screw ups.”

“Big thing to ignore though…”

“The ministry‘s hushing it up.” Moody snorted. “The parts of the ministry that are still functioning anyway. Don’t know where Dumbledore got the idea though…”

Snape’s dark mark…

“I‘m sure Dumbledore has his sources.”

“Such as?”

“Sources we mere mortals cannot tap.”

“And yet you clearly know.” Moody chuckled. “That‘s what I like about you Harry, you make things interesting. Ever need any more help, just ask.”

Moody got up and left, his wooden leg clomping against the wooden floor.

Harry sighed and took another sip of his drink, grimacing in the process. He felt sort of bloated from the excess of exposition. Harry shrugged and got up to leave when he saw a scrap of paper on the floor, under the table.

Harry leant down, careful to act like he was creaky and old, and picked it up. He began unfolding it and marveled at how it just kept unfolding, over and over until it was the size of a poster. On it was drawn some complicated maze pattern, passages intersecting and turning and ending in blind alleys. There was an open space in the middle and several other clear places around as well. The map had little anotations everywhere that Harry had to squint to read…

“Sphinx… quicksand… devil snare…?” Harry read a few more of them then folded the thing back down and stuffed it in his bag. It obviously wasn’t connected to the case.

After leaving the pub and shedding his disguise Harry went back to the castle (disillusioning himself again to squeak past Filch). As he was crossing the entrance hall he spotted someone in one of the side corridors. He trotted up to the figure, who stopped and turned as he drew near.

“You missed Hogsmeade.”

“Mum kept me home.” Susan said, not meeting his eyes.

“Was she pissed at you?”

“Yes Harry,” Susan turned in irritation. “She was pissed. She yelled, she screamed, she was pissed. Now go away.”

“Well don’t take it out on me.” Harry quirked an eyebrow. “I didn‘t yell at you.”

“Harry… just please go away.” Susan shook her head. “She says I can‘t see you anymore.”

“And you‘re gonna listen to her?”

“Harry please just go.” Susan turned and walked down the corridor. Harry followed confused.

“I don‘t get it.” Harry hurried to keep up with the scurrying Susan Bones. “I like you, I got the impression you liked me.”

“It‘s not that…”

“If it‘s not that then what else is there?” Harry slid in front of her and brought her to a stop with his hands on her shoulders. “Come on Bones, be a little bit less Hufflepuff and a little more marauder.”

“The marauders aren‘t a house.” Susan murmured, still not meeting his gaze.

“Oh yes they are,” Harry winked. “The hidden house, the house that never gets point because we have no rules. Come over to my side Susan, it‘s more fun over here. Lets go for a walk, down by the lake.”

“I‘ve got an essay due…”

“Did you not listen to a word I said?” Harry put a hand under her chin and tilted her head up to meet his eyes. “Come on… do you really want me to walk away?”

Harry leant in and kissed her lightly and lingeringly. Or at least that was what he tried for, he wasn’t exactly an expert.

“Harry please…” Or maybe he was… “Wait… have you been drinking wine?” Harry shut her up by kissing her again, this time harder. About halfway through she started kissing back. Harry leant back, they were against a wall. Had he pushed them against a wall? He certainly didn’t remember doing that.

“Oh Harry.” Susan was blushing tomato red. “My mums gonna kill me.”

“That‘s if she ever finds out.” Harry snaked an arm around Susan’s shoulders. “Lets take a walk.”
*


“Harry where were you?” Hermione asked.

“Hogsmeade, remember?”

“Why do you have lipstick on your shirt collar?”

“Um… ran into a bunch of… magic… kissing… flowers? They exist right?”

“No.”

“Oh.” Harry shrugged and grinned evilly. “Guess I must have been snogging someone then.”
*


Despite being in last place in the tournament the following weeks were some of the best in Harry’s memory, and they didn’t even involve pranking anyone! He had the marauders, peace and friendship with Malfoy and a girlfriend. Susan was still occasionally struck with bouts of nervousness, thinking that her mother would somehow find out about their continued relationship (despite the fact that Harry had already taken care of this by ordering Digger to intercept any post sent from a Hogwarts professor to Doris Bones). But other than that it was perfect.

The marauders often ended the day by lounging around outside on the grass outside talking or doing Homework. And because they were there lots of other Gryffindors came too, and usually Susan brought her Hufflepuff friends. Before long the after-class-outside-lounge became a fixture for most of the school. Luckily the marauders took enough different classes that they could always bag a place before it got too crowded.

One afternoon when Harry was on the verge of falling asleep there on the grass, with Susan lying across him, her head pillowed on his arm, a shadow fell across them.

“Harry wake up.”

Harry’s eyes flickered open and he saw Malfoy standing over him.

“You‘re ruining my beauty sleep.” Harry complained.

“Then I‘m sorry because you really look like you need it.” Malfoy quipped laconically.

“One of us has a girlfriend Malfoy, remind me which one of us that is?”

“One of us knows what a comb is, remind me which one of us that is?”

“Me, it’s what honey comes in isn‘t it?” Harry grinned. “Anyway what is it?”

“Judges want us.”

“For what?”

“I don‘t know, I don’t take divination.” Malfoy rolled his eyes.

“Ron does,” Harry glanced over at his friend, who was doing some Divination homework at that moment. “Look in the crystal ball. Tell us what’s happening.”

“Don’t be stupid Harry…” Ron said, eyeing Malfoy suspiciously. “Wait…” He peered into the sphere and blinked, surprised. “Actually, it does look like there‘s something in there.”

“Really? What?” Harry sat up, dislodging his girlfriend. Ron had never before actually seen something in the ball.

“It‘s kind of distorted…” Ron squinted and scratched his head. “Looks kind of like a face…”

“Some sort of creature?” Neville guessed.

“Troll? Giant?” Harry asked, interested.

“Don‘t know, ugly though. Huge red spots all over its face.” Ron peered closer. Hermione’s eyes suddenly widened and she began to giggle. A moment later Harry got it and slapped a hand over his mouth to stop himself laughing.

“Weird red hair too…” Ron continued, oblivious. “Think it‘s some kind of giant? Some of them have red hair.”

“Not one word.” Harry said to Malfoy holding a finger up. “Not one word.”

“Too easy anyway.” Malfoy shrugged and stepped back as Harry stood. They were about to leave when Padma said,

“Hold on, what the hell was that?”

“What?” Harry turned.

“That!” Padma pointed between Harry and Malfoy. “You‘re not at each others throats! You almost look like friends. Are you on some sort of drugs?”

“No.” Harry shook his head. “That would disqualify me from the tournament.”

“It‘s not like they‘d check.” Malfoy pointed out.

“You never know.” Harry shrugged. “I can just see that Crouch guy running at me waving a plastic cup.”

“I wonder if that‘s the third task.” Malfoy half smiled.

“A urine test? Kind of anticlimactic.”

“Not if it’s in front of the whole school.”

“Oh.. True.” Harry shrugged. “But at least it‘d truly put rumors of Harriet Potter to rest.”

“Also… Fleur.”

“Cad.”

“STOP!” Padma yelled in exasperation. “You‘re doing it again!” All the marauders were now staring at Harry and Malfoy.

“It‘s ok.” Harry shrugged. “Long story short I decided that we should have a truce. Since we‘re both in the same boat over the tournament and all.”

“But, he‘s Malfoy!” Ron said, disbelieving.

“It‘s Ok.” Harry explained. “You don‘t have to stop hating him just because I did.”

“I‘m certainly not going to stop hating you.” Malfoy chimed in.

“You‘re not helping.” Harry said, exasperated.

“I‘m not trying to.” Malfoy shrugged. “The judges want us by the Quidditch pitch.” Malfoy turned and walked, unconcerned, towards the pitch.

Harry turned back to the shocked marauders.

“Sorry guys, I know this kind of blindsided you.” Harry spread his hands apologetically. “But we kept getting stuck together, the dragons, the boat, Bournemouth…”

“Malfoy was there?” Ginny interrupted.

“Oh yeah, I didn‘t tell you that.” Harry cursed himself silently. “Yeah he was there, the woman was an old friend of his.”

“The blond hair…” Hermione said, thoughtfully. “It was his wasn‘t it.”

“Yep.” Harry nodded. “Had to snatch it from the aurors.”

“But Harry, he‘s Malfoy!” Ron started again, seemingly stuck in a loop. “Malfoy, you know Draco Mal-”

“He‘s not all bad.” Harry shrugged. “After all, he‘s been my informant since second year.”

“What!” The marauders yelled, almost in unison.

“Did you think I just somehow guessed where The Called would be meeting?” Harry grinned. “You guys are so naive.”

Harry winked and turned away from the seven shocked faces. Still, grinning Harry wandered over to the Quidditch pitch. As soon as he got near it he realized something was wrong.

“Now I don‘t play Quidditch…” Harry said as he got nearer. “But I‘m fairly sure it‘s not meant to look like that.”

“Very droll Mr Potter.” Barty Crouch commented as Harry joined the other champions. “But in all seriousness, these hedges are your third task.”

“The third task is topiary?”

“No Mr Potter.” Crouch said, tolerantly. “It is a maze.”

Oh bugger, Harry’s stomach lurched.

“A maze with the triwizard cup in the center.”

His bag, with the scrap of paper he had picked up at the three broomsticks still in it, suddenly felt very heavy and hot.

“And with many challenges to overcome.”

Harry listened with half an ear to the rest of the judge’s explanation. He suddenly found himself with a choice to make, a moral choice.

“Bugger.” Harry groaned inwardly. “I hate those.”
________________________________________


Every time you fail to leave a review god kills a kitten. A little fluffy kitten. Aw... look at the kitten, so sweet, so fuzzy, and it's DEAD because of YOU!

________________________________________
I don't own Harry Potter. Have I said that recently? No? Well I don't. Someone tried to sell me part of him once, but it was only a finger and it looked kind of hairy.
________________________________________


Harry sat and stared at the little folder piece of paper on the table as if the answer would just come floating out of it. He had clambered into an unused attic over the library to think things over, but unfortunately was coming up blank.

“It‘s not like you saw that much.” Part of Harry’s brain kept saying in a wheedling voice. “You couldn‘t go straight to the cup.”

“But you remember lots of the challenges on the way.” Another part of his brain said, sounding a bit like Neville.

Prison-circle, sphinx, mist mirage, acromantula, devilsnare, tiger-trap, manic mushrooms-

Harry shook his head to clear the litany before it went too far. This was only making things worse, he was actually remembering more things the longer he thought about it.

“You could go to the judges.” A Hermione shaped brain cell said. “Just tell them what happened honestly, it was just a mistake after all.”

“Yeah, how would that go…” Harry rolled his eyes. “You see I was eavesdropping on you and I found this bit of paper…” Harry shook his head.

He could share it with the other champions… Look at the map in its entirety and give copies to the Fleur, Viktor and Malfoy. But that ran into the problem of virtually ensuring that he’d lose the task. Ten minutes head start isn’t that much when you’re going into a maze blind, but when you know the way? Harry shook his head, Malfoy or Fleur would have the cup in their hands before he even got through the front door.

That was the question wasn’t it, Goldilocks style…

He wasn’t against cheating a little (using the marauders for research, overhearing about the dragon), but having a direct map to the finish line was just too much. That porridge was much too hot.

On the other hand he wasn’t so obsessed with fairness that he’d just hand the cup to Beauxbattons. Fleur was nice, and he didn’t mind some of the other girls, but there was no was he was letting that oversized bitch-queen Maxim have the satisfaction of winning. That porridge was far too cold.

And the one that was just right was…

“It doesn‘t exist.” Harry slumped dejectedly. “Because the bear cub had been killed by poachers and its gall bladder sold as medicine.”

“I could just burn it now…” Harry thought suddenly. “Accept that I have a slight advantage in knowing what challenges are coming and burn the rest. I‘m last anyway, I deserve a helping hand.”

Was that porridge just right? Depends what part of his brain he was trying to satisfy.

“Any more of this and my brain will be porridge.” Harry dropped his head to the table and banged it repeatedly against the hardwood surface. “I‘m no good at these questions.”

Accept it, sometimes questions have no answer.

“Or no good one at least.” Harry shook his head. “Screw it, Incendio!” Harry burnt the scrap of parchment to ash. “Close enough to fair. And I do deserve some help after Dumbledore stiffed me in the second task.”

“You‘re still cheating!” Hermione-brain admonished him.

“Put a metaphysical sock in it.” Harry grumbled at her and stood up from his table. “Sometimes real life isn‘t fair.”

Harry turned and pushed open the hidden doorway he’d used to get into this place before slinking off down the corridor with his hood up. It was way after curfew but Harry seldom worried about such things, even Mrs Norris’ ears couldn’t pick up Harry when he was trying not to be heard.

Speak of the devil…

Harry skillfully slid into an alcove as the caretakers cat came into view around a corner. She was stalking, tail in the air and her head close down to the floor. Moving in the high-speed-slinking manner of a cat on a mission.

What was she hunting? Not rats, the castle was clean of them. Harry disillusioned himself and began following the stalking feline. She seemed almost confused, she would slink for a few feet then stop and sniff the air, occasionally batting at it with a paw, before slinking forward again.

Harry followed her cautiously. Was she tracking a student? Who else but the marauders were out of bed at this kind of hour?

Suddenly Harry froze, a dark sliver had just appeared in mid air above the scraggly cat. A moment later there was a flash of red light and she slumped to the ground. Harry tried to stay perfectly still as the stunned kitty was pushed behind a suit of armor by the invisible presence. Harry saw the bottom half of a boot, visible for a spilt second, then nothing. Not for the first time Harry wished he had Moody’s artificial eye.

The young marauder strained his ears and just caught the scratch of boots on stone and followed at a crouch. Disillusionment was no substitute for a true invisibility cloak, if whoever it was looked back at the wrong moment they would spot him for sure. Harry tried to stay in the shadows as he furiously tried to come up with a plan. He wished he could drop back far enough to call Myrtle, but if he did that he’d lose the intruder for sure.

Harry could almost see the shadow of the man he was following when he passed a torch in the wall. Not even an invisibility cloak was perfect after all so Harry could pick out the basic shape. It did not bode well.

“Whoever this is they‘re a full grown adult.” Harry cursed silently. “Which means they‘re either a teacher, in which case why sneak around, or they‘re no supposed to be here. And their readiness to curse a defenseless cat doesn‘t exactly speak to their character either.”

The sound of footsteps stopped and Harry too came to a halt, pressing himself up against the wall so as to be less visible. The man seemed to have stopped outside one of the teachers quarters. Harry saw the wand appear a second time and a moment later the door glowed a myriad of different colors, a rainbow in the dark corridor. The spell was quickly canceled and the wand withdrawn. The man sounded like he was sitting down to consider the problem.

Harry however grinned impishly. He’d just remembered whose door this was. Only one teacher was paranoid enough to put that many locking spells on their door. Harry slinked backwards quietly, it would take whoever-it-was a good long time to get through that lot and even if he did Moody could take care of himself.

Harry took himself a few corridors away then tapped out a signal on the stone floor. After a moments waiting Myrtle appeared through the floor.

“Something the matter Harry?” She said, looking over his camouflaged self.

“Go to Dumbledore, quickly.” Harry whispered. “Tell him someone is breaking into Moody‘s rooms. Someone invisible.”

Myrtle’s eyes widened and she darted away quickly. Harry turned and slowly made his way back to Moody’s rooms.

When he returned Harry’s heart skipped a beat. The door was open!

Harry scrambled to his feet, heedless of the noise and dashed to the door. He slid to the entrance just in time to hear the words,

“Avada Keda-”

“NO!” Harry yelled and threw himself forward. He struck something in the air and saw a flash of green light. Time went slow as Harry saw the bolt crawl through the air, rippling its sick green path towards the bed at the far end of the quarters. The light lit Moody‘s face and Harry could have sworn he was the teachers eyes flicker open before the bolt struck home and the room was plunged into darkness again.

A moment later he hit the floor, the murderer dropping beside him with a thump. Harry kicked wildly and felt his foot hit flesh. He jumped to his feet and pulled his wand out of his jacket. But his assailant was faster.

“Avada Kedavra!”

Harry dropped to the floor as the green bolt shot over his head. The shadowy figure aimed again, and this time Harry had nowhere to go.

“Avada Kedavra!”

“Accio!” Harry yelled desperately, pointing at a side table. It flew towards him and caught the green spell in mid air, showering Harry in huge splinters. “Depulso!” Harry waved at the wooden shards and they shot away from him like shrapnel.

Harry heard his enemy scream as one of the splinters stuck in mid air. Harry threw himself at the floor beneath it and felt himself hit leg. The invisible enemy tumbled to the floor again as Harry staggered to his feet.

“Lumos!”

Harry was caught off guard and the spell hit him like a flashbulb, blinding him and making him stumble back in surprise. He heard running feet and took off in pursuit, fending himself off the suddenly blurry doorway and dashing off down the corridor after his quarry. Harry flicked his wand up to his throat as he ran.

“Sonorous!” Harry amplified his voice and yelled, “Murder! Murder in the castle!”

Harry had to dodge as a bolt of red light flashed down the passage ahead of him.

“Offucia!” Harry jabbed his wand forward and a stream of deep red paint sprayed across the corridor. A blot of it hit in mid air. Harry grinned and aimed again. “Ferio!” The bludgeoning curse flew true and Harry saw the painted figure lifted off the floor and hurled into the wall. Harry threw two more into the prone figure as he approached. Harry spotted the mans wand on the floor and kicked it away from him.

“Now let‘s see your ugly face you bastard.” Harry panted, out of breath. “Come on off with it!”

The figure didn’t move, perhaps he’d knocked him out?

“Accio cloak!” Harry flicked his wand and the cloak shot up. It sprang into Harry‘s hands, knocking his wand to the side.

“Effodio!”

Harry was thrown to the floor as the spell hit him, sliding across the stone in a daze of pain. Through the red mist he heard a sinister chuckle. The cloak was pulled from his suddenly powerless fingers. Harry tried to turn his head to see his assailant but a rough hand pushed him back down into the floor.

Harry tried vainly to push himself to his feet at the murdered turned and hurried away but the floor seemed to be strangely slick. Harry brought a hand up and faintly registered red. The paint that he had thrown or blood? Harry tried to focus on the floor in front of him and saw something slimy lying on the ground next to him. Long, coiled and bulging like a snake that had just eaten a pack of rats. Harry traced it back and almost passed out when he saw where it was coming from.

It was flopping out from a gaping hole in his stomach. The slimy thing was his own intestines.

The pain hit Harry again, harder then before. It was as if, now that he knew he was cut open, his mind was finally registering the injury. His hands moved involuntarily, pulling the fleshy coils towards him, his body vainly trying to fix what his brain knew was a killing wound.

“Mr Pot… Oh Harry!”

Behind a mist of red Harry saw professor McGonagall’s face come into view. Her usually stern face was contorted with fear and shock.

“Effercio.” McGonagall waved her wand over him and Harry felt his guts reel themselves back in like a hose. Harry looked down and couldn’t stop himself from vomiting at the visage of his entrails slipping in through his skin.

A moment later it was over and the wound closed up, showing up only as a raw red line on his skin.

“Who used an entrail expelling curse on you Potter?” McGonagall asked, her shock still evident in her voice. “And what is all this about murder?”

“Dumbledore.” Harry panted, pained. “Get me to Dumbledore.”

“For once you are talking sense.” Harry felt himself lifted up off the floor then set back down on a stretcher that the Professor must have conjured right there and then. The stretcher itself was lifted then and Harry saw the walls around him begin to move. Harry tried to shift position but as soon as did a spear of pain hit him in the stomach.

“Do not try to move Harry. Please.” He heard McGonagall’s concerned voice from behind him. “The counter-curse only puts you back together, it doesn‘t reverse all the damage that was done along the way.”

Harry lay obediently still as they moved through the darkened corridors. Harry wasn’t sure how much longer it took but eventually they stopped and he felt a shadow fall over him. Harry pulled his head up enough to look around and found that they were outside the Hospital wing, Dumbledore was standing over him solemnly in a purple dressing gown. Behind him the three remaining Heads of House were standing, looking his way. Off at the edge of the lamplight Harry could see the Triwizard judges. Maxim towering up into the shadows of the roof, Karkaroff with the angles of his face stark in the candlelight and Crouch standing silently beside. Harry turned back to Dumbledore.

“I lost him.” Harry said through a raw throat.

“Harry…”

“I followed him for ages but I…” Harry coughed heavily into his hand. When he could speak again he continued. “I screwed up, made a stupid mistake. I let him get away.”

“Harry you cannot be held responsible.” Dumbledore shook his head. “I should have come to your aid instead of going to Professor Moody first. I should have known you would chase after the intruder.”

“Moody…” Harry felt his heart drop into his boots. “That’s my fault too. I thought it would be alright to leave for a few moments. To give you a signal. It’s my fault he‘s dead.”

“Ah,” Dumbledore broke into a smile. “I think I have some good news for you Harry. Professor Moody is not dead.”

“Wha…” Harry shook his head in confusion. “But it was the killing curse!”

“As near as Madam Pomfrey can tell either the caster had no experience with Unforgivables or he was unable to complete the spell.”

“I hit him.” Harry cast his mind back. “Before he could finish.”

“Well there it is then.” Dumbledore patted him on the shoulder. “You almost certainly saved his life.”

“Wait…” Harry’s eyes widened. “Map! Your map! If you look it-”

“My thoughts exactly Harry. And my fault as well,” Dumbledore shook his head. “I waited to make sure Professor Moody was alive before checking the map and by that time whoever it was must already have left.”

“No,” Harry shook his head. “A followed him ages and I must have hurt ‘im. He couldn‘t have left that quickly.”

“The fact that our enemy knows of the existence of the map may explain that.” Snape said, detaching himself from the shadows. Dumbledore shot his potions master a surprisingly angry look. Perhaps this was a fact that Dumbledore did not want Harry to become aware of. Snape continued, unruffled. “Maybe the dark lord has found a way to circumvent it.”

“We do not know that Voldemort is directly involved Severus.”

“We do not know that he is not.” Snape crooked an eyebrow.

“Perhaps.” Dumbledore conceded. “But in any case he cannot circumvent the map. There are very few things I am confident in the infallibility of, but one of them is the mar-… the map.”

What had that been? Harry wondered. That little pause before ‘the map’.

“Then an illegal portkey perhaps?” Snape was saying.

“Could ask Mr Crouch to look into it.” Harry suggested. “What with his ministry cont-”

“Thank you Harry,” Dumbledore cut him off. “I will consider it.”

“Had any luck with the ministry yourself?” Harry asked pointedly, mainly to see the look on Dumbledore’s face. He was not disappointed.

“How did you…?”

“Persuading them he‘s on the way back I mean.”

“I… I do not know how you have heard of that Harry.” Dumbledore said, he sounded like he was keeping some deep anger in check. “But it is none of your concern. Right now you need to be seen by Madam Pomfrey.”

“But-”

“This is not a discussion Harry.” Dumbledore flicked his wand and the stretcher began moving.

As he floated into the hospital wing the last thing he heard was Snape turning to Dumbledore and saying,

“Now do you think we should warn the order?”

Dumbledore’s response was too quiet to hear but his nod said enough.
*


“Potter.”

Hm…

“Oy Potter!”

Sleepy…

“Wake up!”

Stupid Hospital. Harry cracked his lids open and saw Moody staring at him from the next bed over.

“I‘m up.” Harry rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. “What is it?”

“Sloppy Potter, very sloppy.” Moody shook his head. “You let him get away.”

“Sorry,” Harry hung his head. “I made a lot of mistakes last night.”

“List ‘em.”

“What?”

“You heard me Potter, list ‘em.” Moody lay back on his hospital bed.

“Well…” Harry thought back. “I thought it would take longer for whoever it was to break through your door.”

“Underestimating your opponent.” Moody shook his head. “Stupid, first mistake.”

“He tricked me with a Lumos spell, blinded me.” Harry continued.

“Inattentive. Unprepared.”

“And I made the stupid mistake of getting my hands tangled when I summoned his cloak to me.”

“Clumsy.” Moody tisked. “Wouldn‘t have thought that of you Harry.”

“You’re right, I was hurt but that’s no excuse.” Harry shook his head and frowned. “I kicked his wand away but he must have had a spare.”

“Always assume they have a spare.” Moody said sternly. “Accio wands or Expelliarmus. Use them whether you think he‘s got a wand or not.”

“Right, I shoulda known that.”

“Constant vigilance.” Moody said harshly. “You can never be too careful.”

“Constant vigilance.” Harry repeated. “I know, and I‘m sorry I got you involved in this.”

“You assume this has something to do with you?” Moody said, a little chuckle in his voice. “I had enemies before I met you.”

“How many have invisibility cloaks.”

“More than one.” Moody said pointedly. “And more that have the funds to get one if they needed it.”

“I thought they were rare.”

“They are Potter.” Moody grinned. “I just tend to make expensive enemies. One of the risks of the job.”

“Ok,” Harry closed his eyes. “How many of them are about six feet tall, skinny and bony with dark brown hair who fights smart and has experience with espionage and breaking through wards.”

“Brown hair?”

“Think I saw a flash of it when the cloak came off.”

“Doesn‘t mean much. Could have colored it.”

“Why disguise yourself then wear an invisibility cloak?”

“True.” Moody frowned thoughtfully. “Still doesn‘t mean he‘s connected.”

“Still, bit of a coincidence.”

“Oh don‘t think I‘m dismissing it.” Moody shook his head. “Not for a moment.” Moody tried to push himself up on his hands then winced in pain and settled back down.

“Still feeling a little cursed Professor?”

“I‘ll be fine.” Moody grunted. “I‘ve had worse. Least the killing curse doesn‘t scar.”

“Um…”

“Not for most of us.” Moody laughed, then broke into a loud, wet cough. “Maybe I will be out of commission for a while.”

“That means we‘ll have Snape again.” Harry sighed. “And well… He‘s not so bad any more.”

“He‘s tall, and has dark hair.” Moody pointed out suspiciously.

“I‘d know his voice.” Harry dismissed the accusation with a wave of his hand. “Besides he‘s not evil.”

“Constant vig-”

“Not evil. Used to be evil, not evil now.” Harry held a finger up. “Besides, he‘s had all year to try and kill you. Why now? And why with spells in the middle of the night when he‘s had access to your food all year.”

“Good point. But I still don‘t trust him.”

“You don‘t have to,” Harry shrugged. “Just accept that I do.”

There was silence for a moment as Moody regarded Harry pointedly.

“What?”

“Nothing Potter.” Moody lay back, an amused smile on his face. “Just reminded me of someone is all.”

Harry shrugged and leant back too. He had enough puzzles without trying to work out what that meant.
________________________________________


Leave a review. If you don't then vengeful Lord Xenu will strike you down!

________________________________________
Due to the fact that the queue has been so long recently I have concatenated two previously separate chapters into one whopper. Hope you like it.

Oh, and I don't own Harry Potter. You can't own a person, that's slavery.
________________________________________


Harry was let out of the hospital wing a few days later with orders to take it easy and only eat liquid food for a week or two until his insides settled down. Harry was alright with this except that the occasional stabs of pain from his midriff rather got in the way of him training for the third task. Harry adopted the attic above the library as his own and sealed the doorway with the password cheating scumbag so he and the marauders could have a private place to train.

Harry gutted the room as efficiently as he himself had been gutted to leave a large dueling space in the middle. While his gang searched the library for anything remotely useful Harry practiced anything they found against the twins or against the broken bookshelves they had found up there. Harry accepted that he would never be an awesome dueler but at least he could aim for competent. It did eat into the time he could spend with Susan but unfortunately it was inevitable.

Given that Harry had totally ignored Madam Pomfrey’s advice to take it easy it was perhaps also inevitable that he would end up back in the hospital wing after throwing up bloody vomit.

“Mr Potter you idiotic…” Pomfrey spluttered incoherently as she dosed him with various potions. “In all my years… never… so stupid! Not even your father with all his pranks was in here so much. At least he seemed to understand that the human body has certain limitations! You cannot just keep heaping abuse on it and expect it to keep working properly!”

“At least I’m giving you a challenge.” Harry grinned.

“A challenge? More like a stroke!”

Harry was once again discharged a few days before the third task, finally fully healthy. Of course not everyone treated him as such.

“You sure you‘re alright Harry?” Ron repeated for about the billionth time as they walked to lunch.

“No Ron,” Harry rolled his eyes. “I‘ve miraculously had a relapse during the last twenty seconds.”

“Harry you throwing up blood.” Padma pointed out. “You don‘t just bounce back from that.”

“I‘m not bouncing.” Harry shrugged. “Or bounding, or any other b-words. I‘m just eating lunch.”

“You‘re boring.” Harry turned to see Malfoy standing behind him. “That‘s a b-word.”

“I‘m many things Malfoy.” Harry responded sardonically. “But boring isn‘t one of them.”

"Is bastard?"

“Anything in particular bothering you Malfoy,” Harry asked. “Or did you just come to insult me?”

“Yes,” Malfoy grew serious again a moment later. “Mind if I speak to you in private…” Malfoy jerked his head towards an empty classroom.

“This isn‘t going to be one of those good discussions is it.” Harry hung his head dejectedly.

“No I don‘t think so.”

Harry sighed and followed the blonde Slytherin into the empty classroom.

“Meet you in Charms.” Harry nodded to the worried looking marauders before closing the door and turning to his fellow champion.

“Anyone dead?” Harry asked bluntly.

“Not yet.”

“Ominous.”

“You don‘t know the half of it.” Malfoy shook his head. “I finally got that letter from my father.”

“I assume that‘s not the last of it.” Harry sat down at a desk and braced for the worst.

“He told me to lose. Worse, he told me to make sure you win.”

Harry leant back against the desk and covered his face with his hands. Sometimes all this was too much.

“What exactly did he say?” Harry rubbed his temples. “Or better yet give me the letter.”

Malfoy handed over the missive. Harry flipped it open and read the curt message within.

Draco

I know that you are to enter a maze in the third task. You will make every effort to halt the progress of Viktor Krum and Fleur Delacour. Use the spells I taught you if necessary. Do not worry about the consequences, I will protect you. Make sure the Potter boy wins the tournament. You do not have to understand to obey.

There was no signature. Harry handed it back, resting his head on his arm.

“The spells I taught you?” Harry asked tiredly.

“Dark magic.” Malfoy answered, sounding just as worn out. “He means don‘t be afraid to hurt them. ‘You do not have to understand to obey.’”

“What does that mean?”

“It was one of his favorite things to tell me when I was young.” Malfoy shook his head. “It tended to end discussions.”

“Why?”

“Because it told me that he wanted the discussion to end.” Malfoy snapped.

“Look Malfoy I don‘t know what to do with this.” Harry admitted. “I‘ve already got enough on my plate.”

“I know what that feels like.” Malfoy sat down beside him and bowed his head, making his floppy blond hair drop down and hide his face. “I don‘t know what to do.”

“What do you-” Harry jerked back in shock. “You‘re not thinking of listening to him are you?”

“He‘s my father!”

“He‘s a git who makes you miserable!”

“You don‘t understand.” Malfoy snapped angrily. “You just don‘t. Maybe if you had a father you‘d get it, but you don‘t so shut up!”

“If you‘re trying to get rid of me it won‘t work.” Harry crossed his arms. “Or at the very least you‘ll have to try harder.”

“But you don‘t understand.” Malfoy said more reasonably, but still with an edge of desperation in his voice. “I‘m sorry Harry but you just don’t. This isn‘t about getting a bloody pat on the head. This is about family. It‘s about family honor.”

“No, family honor would be getting your name on that cup. Family honor would be seeing the headline ‘Malfoy wins triwizard cup’.” Harry shifted closer. “But forget about that, how about your own honor. Can you live with knowing you could have won the triwizard tournament, but gave it up? Can you live with that?”

“The family is what‘s important.” Malfoy shook his head. “Sometimes we have to do things we don‘t like. You don’t have to understand-”

“You‘re like a parrot.” Harry interrupted, changing tack to go for a riskier plan. “Aren‘t you tired of repeating his crap?”

“You don‘t understand!” Malfoy yelled, pushing him back violently.

“Oh great,” Harry scoffed. “The cry the moody teenager. Nice to know you‘re like everybody else.”

“Screw you Potter!” Malfoy stood angrily, his fists bunched at his sides. Harry could see the faint glistening lines of tears of his cheeks.

“You gonna cry about it.” Harry slouched back, chuckling. “Way to preserve the Malfoy honor.”

“Shut up!”

“Is this what you did with that Ellen woman? Cry into her apron?”

“I told you to shut up!” Malfoy drew his wand and held the shaking point to Harry’s neck. Harry just laughed.

“Like you‘d actually do it.” Harry rolled his eyes. “You‘re too much of a coward to-”

“Praefoco!”

Harry was thrown backwards as the spell hit him and was left gulping for air as the curse closed his airway. From behind a haze of floating spots Harry saw Malfoy stalk off out the door. Harry managed to grab his wand and get out a strangled finite before collapsing on the floor and trying to refill his lungs in great gasps.

“You deserved that.” Harry looked around for the source of the noise. A moment later Myrtle floated slowly up through the floor. “You definitely deserved that.”

“I know.” Harry croaked out, managing a half smile. “What are you doing here?”

“The others sent me down because they were worried about you?” Myrtle put her hands on her insubstantial hips. “You really were incredibly insensitive.”

“All part of the plan.” Harry winked.

“How so? You don‘t even know what he‘s going to do.”

“I know one thing he‘s not going to do.” Harry grinned. “There‘s no way he‘ll let me win now.”
*


The day of the third task finally arrived. Harry got out of bed and dressed in a sort of odd trance. People said and did things around him, patting him on the back and speaking to him but it was almost as if the universe had become background noise, though background to what he couldn’t say.

His mind was… well not blank but certainly not thinking along normal lines. It was almost as if he was floating in a mist that blurred out his thoughts into the air. Instead of the crisp, semi-schizophrenic, edge they usually had they were vague and cloudy. Primitive, he decided, was the best word for them. A throwback to when humans thought with feelings and pictures instead of words.

Also he was being introspective, he was never introspective.

“Are you sure you‘re alright Harry.” Someone asked him. Harry had to concentrate quite hard to work out it was Neville.

“I‘m fine Nev.” Harry nodded slowly. “Just in a bit of an odd place right now.”

“You look kind of… Well remember last year when you kept skipping through time?”

“I remember.” Harry shook his head. “That‘s not this. Believe me, I‘m fine.”

As the other competitors went to the great hall to meet their families Harry wandered back up to the attic over the library and flicked through the same books he had been going through for the past few weeks. It was sort of pointless really, Hermione always said that last minute revision didn’t stick in your mind like it should. Not that she didn’t do it anyway. Harry sat down on the cracked floorboards with the books strewn around him and tried to pull his thoughts together.

He failed utterly.

“Enough.” Harry growled at himself. “Get your head together.”

“Have you been moping up here all morning?” Harry’s head flicked up and he saw Susan Bones standing in the doorway.

“I have not been moping.” Harry said, from his position on the floor. “I have been studying.”

“You never study.” Susan smiled.

“I never study schoolwork.” Harry grinned. “My independent studys however are pretty extensive.”

Susan walked up to him with her hands behind her back coquettishly and sat down beside him. Harry flicked his book closed and shifted closer. He momentarily wished for a softer floor.

“You know studying at the last minute rarely helps.”

“You have something you‘d rather I be doing?”

“Yes.”
*


As it was Harry almost missed the task. It was only the sound of movement from the floors below that prompted Harry to push his girlfriend off him and scramble for his glasses. Rushing downstairs he managed to managed to blend into the crowd without looking too conspicuous.

“Nice hicky Harry!”

Damn.

Harry flicked his collar up and kept walking, throwing an evil glare at the snickering students. As he walked towards the stands he felt an element of the old fuzziness slipping back into his mind. He shook it off, a good snoging session had been just what he needed to bring him back down to earth. He noticed Malfoy making his way to the quidditch pitch alongside an older blond woman. His mother? So his father hadn’t turned up. Interesting.

Harry pushed his way through the crowds to where the other champions were waiting.

“Well this looks fun.” Harry grinned up at the towering hedges.

Fleur shared a smile with him. Krum just grunted and stayed silent. Fleur’s eyes flickered to his collar and after a moment she laughed quietly. She drew her wand and beckoned him closer.

“’arry, lean down.” Harry obliged and she tapped her wand on his neck where the purple bruise disappeared with a quick popping

“Use that one a lot?” Harry teased.

“Any man who bruises my skin does not touch it again.” Fleur replied haughtily.

“I mean on other people.”

“Oh,” Fleur winked cheekily. “Then yes, quite often.” Harry laughed.

Harry watched the branches of the maze as the fat judge (Bagman?) explained the rules. Harry listened with half an ear. The wind was picking up, making the hedges shift ominously. Harry closed his eyes and tried to marshal everything he’d learnt over the past few weeks. Scratch that, over his entire life.

Harry heard a whistle sound and felt the movement of the air as someone ran past him. It must have been Malfoy. Harry lowered himself to the ground, sitting cross legged on the grass.

Another whistle sounded. Fleur.

Prison-circle, sphinx, bogart, mist mirage, flagrante curse, acromantula, devilsnare, tiger-trap, manic mushrooms. Harry went through the list in his head along with the defenses against them.

Third whistle, Krum.

Harry lay back on the grass and blocked out the sound of the crowd. He was going to win, then he was going to sort out everything else. The crowd was chanting, ‘”Seven!”, “Six!”, “Five!”…

Harry breathed deep.

“Four!”

This wasn’t so hard.

“Three!”

Ok it was hard, but it was doable.

“Two!”

On the other hand this grass was pretty comfy.

“One!”

Oh well, here goes…

“Go!”

Harry shot to his feet and dashed directly into the darkness of the maze. The noise of the crowd was gone almost instantly and he was totally alone. Well, alone except for the sphinxs and acromantula and bogarts, but they weren’t there yet. Harry drew his wand and tapped his foot.

“Theseus.” Harry said clearly. The sole of his shoe glowed. Harry dropped it back to the floor and saw it make a glowing red footprint. “Point me.” Harry held his wand flat and saw it spin to point vaguely forwards.

Harry sent prayers of thanks to Zeus and Hermione before setting off at a run down the dark passage. He reached a junction, looked behind him to check that he was still leaving a trail, then did the point me spell again and ran off down another passage.

He was moving so fast he almost didn’t see the leaves covering a portion of the pathway. Harry skidded to a halt just before it, his boots scraping at the edge. Harry carefully lifted a small branch and looked down into the dark pit underneath, it seemed like the bottom had been coated with something sticky and goopy. Honey? Nah… they wouldn’t have filled the pit with honey, plus he would be able to smell it. Something like that though. Harry carefully replaced the branch incase another champion happened by and skirted around the outside before continuing on his way.

Another turn landed him on a long straight stretch that went generally in the right direction. Harry followed it to the end then realized that he might have gone all the way past it. Harry cursed and holstered his wand before pushing his arms into the hedge and lifting himself off the floor. He climbed up until he could put his head over and scout out the center. Almost due north. Harry scrambled back down and set off at a run.

Another junction passed without event, then another, then ano- Damn it!

Harry rolled under the massive hand as it swatted the air above him. Harry took one look at the hulking winged beast that has swung at him, (looking something like a cross between a troll, an alligator and an eagle covered in ivy and slime) and decided it wasn’t worth fighting. Harry sprinted away to gain some distance then spun and yelled,

“Eizuckerpeitsche!” The chasing thing disappeared in the expanding ball of fluffed egg product. Harry grinned and kept running.

Harry reached the next junction and slowed to a crawl. Two of the entrances had strange archways over them. Harry stopped, he didn’t remember this from the map. He hadn’t recognized the mutant beast either, perhaps this was part of the map that he’d just failed to look at.

Harry cast the point me spell and groaned as it pointed almost directly at one of the arches. He cast a revealing charm over the arch and found several tripwire hexes. Harry picked up a nearby branch and brushed them away like spider webs, ignoring the pops and flashed of the spells as they triggered. Then he threw it aside and stepped through. Nothing happened. Harry grinned and stepped forward before stopping and looking back.

It shouldn’t have been that easy.

Harry stepped back up to the arch and realized what was wrong. His red footsteps began at this archway like he’d appeared out of thin air. Looking back into the junction Harry saw his footprints trailing up to the other arch.

“Ah, tricky.” Harry grinned and knocked the tripwires from this arch as well before stepping through it back into the courtyard and walking through the other arch.

The point me spell told him he had indeed guessed right and he walked on. He was beginning to get worried though. This was taking longer than he had thought it would. He turned a corner and was met with a shocking sight.

Draco was down on his knees with his back to one of the hedges. He seemed to be trying to crawl back into it, his shoes scrabbling ineffectually against the ground. Advancing on him was Lucius Malfoy in full back robes, a silver scull mask hanging around his neck. The father and son were locked onto each eyes neither of them looking away. Harry wasn’t sure either of them were even blinking.

“Ferio!” Harry shot his favorite hex at Lucius. But somehow it just flew through him like he was mist. Lucius turned on Harry and he saw the tall wizard ripple before he was incased in a column of water.

Some part of Harry’s brain screamed that it was a boggart, that tried to force him to speak the spell to banish it. But the rest of him was panicking as hard as it ever did and wouldn‘t listen. He gulped in a long mouthful and felt himself choking.

“Ridiculus!”

Harry fell to the ground as the water became party balloons. Harry looked up to see Malfoy, still crouched on the floor, with his wand out.

“Thank you.” Harry croaked out.

“How in Merlin’s name did you survive the second task?” Malfoy said breathlessly.

“Blind arrogance.” Harry forced himself to his feet and offered a hand to help Malfoy do the same. Harry dusted himself off and set off towards the goal. Malfoy fell into step beside him.

“Did you meet the Bugbear.” Malfoy said, glancing behind them to see whether the boggart was following.

“Nope.” Harry shrugged. “Met what I think was a Jabberwocky though.”

“Really?” Malfoy seemed impressed in his dry way. “What did you do?”

“Encased it in meringue.” Harry grinned, then frowned. “I‘ve noticed you‘re not cursing me. Last time we spoke you were cursing me.”

“Oh that, did you really think I‘d fall for that for long?” Malfoy shook his head. “I worked out what you were doing the minute I got back to my common room.”

“Guess I‘m not as smart as I thought.” Harry shrugged. “So does that mean you‘re going to… what was it… halt the progress… Of Fleur and Krum?”

“Haven‘t met either of them.” Malfoy replied, then added dryly. “It‘s like a maze in here.”

“Oh ha bloody ha.” Harry rolled his eyes. “Well if you… stop walking.”

Harry threw a hand out in front of Malfoy, who stopped instantly, raised his wand and began scanning the corridor of leaves they were walking along.

“What? Where?” Malfoy asked tersely, glancing around.

“You hear that?”

Scrit… scrit…

“That little… metal… sound?” Malfoy stepped back, closer to Harry’s back.

Scrit…

“Like someone sharpening a knife?”

Scrit…

“Yes.”

Scrit… scrit…

“Oh great.” Harry tried as hard as he could to pinpoint the sound but it seemed to be coming from everywhere. “I think there‘s more than one.”

“More than one what!” Malfoy’s head was now jerking from side to side like a dog watching a tennis match.

Scrit… scrit…

“Stay still and listen!” Harry gritted his teeth. The noises sounded… high? Harry’s eyes flicked up to the highest branches. Not for the first time he wished he had Moody’s eye.

Was that a flash of movement? Harry concentrated, it was like trying to see through that cheep one-way glass. The stuff that’s just regular glass with strips of mirror threaded through it. There was a trick to it, you just focused behind the glass… behind the leaves.

“Oh bugger.” Harry’s eyes widened. “RUN!” As soon as Harry moved the hedges exploded.

Darts rained down, peppering the two fleeing boys. Harry screamed as the needles hit his flesh and jerked his hood up over his head. It didn’t help much.

“Waito imps!” Malfoy yelled, following behind him. “Damn!… Ow!… Bloody!…”

Harry dashed away, the litany of swearwords following close behind. He at least tried to steer towards the center of the maze but it was hard when running at full tilt.

Scrit!

“Aaah!” Harry cried in pain as a dart stabbed into his cheek, the point going straight through. Harry pulled it out with another angry cry. “Right! That DOES IT! Malfoy, back to back!”

Harry felt the Slytherin move into position.

“INCENDIO!” Harry slashed his wand in a wide swathe, burning the dry branches.

“Incendio!” Malfoy yelled behind him.

“No!” Harry held up an arm to block another volley of darts aiming for his head. “You shield!”

“Protego!” Malfoy made no attempt to argue, a fact Harry truly appreciated.

“Incendio!” Harry cut another swathe through the branches and apparently hit something this time as a mad squeaking cry went up and another dark rainbow of darts flew up to drop on the two teenagers. Harry forced himself to trust Malfoy and made no attempt to block them. Instead he aimed directly at where they had come from.

“Confringo!” Harry saw the curse hit the burning branches and explode in a fireball, raining sparks down on them. Both the sparks and the darts bounced easily off Malfoy’s shield. The screeching grew louder and more panicked (like a violently squeezed guinea pig) then grew fainter as the imps retreated, scurrying and swinging through the hedges like gibbons. Harry’s shoulders sagged and he let his wand arm drop to his side.

“That was a good plan.” Malfoy said breathlessly. “Good plan.”

“Well you know my shields couldn‘t keep off rain let alone this.” Harry pulled a dart out of his upper arm where he hadn’t noticed it. “You think these are poisoned?”

“Unlikely.” Malfoy shook his head, still trying to catch his breath. “Waito imps aren‘t really that smart. Cruel, but not smart.”

“Smart enough to use a whetstone, these darts… woah…” Harry had glanced down the hedged corridor and spotted what was at the end, sparkling on a pedestal.

The triwzard cup.

“We made it.” Harry breathed. “And I only had to get my cheek pierced.”

The two of them began to walk forward, not speaking. Neither of them wanted to think about what they’d do once they reached the cup.

Unfortunately the universe provided a distraction for their dilemma in the form of something infinitely more awful.

They both saw her at the same moment, blue robes falling over her slight frame and her blond hair spreading out in a fan around her. She was sprawled at the far side of the clearing, one hand stretched out towards the cup as if she had been reaching for it as she fell.

Fleur...

Harry moved first, pushing her up on her side and putting two fingers to her neck for a pulse. He waited there a long time, the light draining out of his eyes as it already had from hers. When he finally turned back to his companion it was almost too much effort to speak.

“She‘s dead.”

Absolute silence reigned for a moment.

“No… no she can‘t be.” Malfoy shook his head. “You did it wrong.”

“Malfoy she‘s not even warm.” Harry rolled her onto her front and crossed her arms across her chest. He eased her hair off her face, breaking the caked on dirt, and closed her eyes. Harry closed his eyes too, it didn’t even seem real.

“Half an hour ago she was healing a love bite off my neck.” Harry could still see her wink in his mind. “She was smiling.”

“This isn‘t happening.” Malfoy interrupted behind him, shaking his head manically “It‘s… it‘s like a trick! It‘s the last challenge before we take the cup.”

“THEN TAKE THE BLOODY CUP!” Harry raged out, feeling hot tears streaking down his face as he spun around to face Malfoy. “Just take it so we can get out of here!”

“I…” Malfoy stepped back hurriedly, then turned to the cup. “But don’t you want it?”

“I wanna go home.” Harry said, a little pathetically. “Just take the cup. Please.”

“N…no.” Malfoy stepped back. “You take it.”

“Draco…” Harry shook his head. “Don‘t listen to your father, for once just… take something for yourself.”

“You deserve it more.”

“I cheated.”

“So did I.”

“I cheated more.” Harry shook his head, the tears coming freely now. “I had a map.”

“You‘re trying to play me again.” Malfoy said, still sounding panicked. “If you‘d had a map you‘d have got here quicker.”

“Just take the bloody cup!” Harry wailed. “Can‘t you see I don’t want it anymore!”

“I…”

“Here!” Harry grabbed his arm. “Like this!”

Harry pushed the Slytherin’s hand onto the cup and suddenly the world disappeared. Instead it was replaced by a swirling vortex of color and light.

Portkey! Oh god oh god oh god.

Harry just about had time to realize how badly he’d screwed up when he was dumped on a cold stone floor.
*


Harry pushed himself up on pained arms and looked around. He was in the middle of a hall, marble floors and columns, all in black and white marble. Even the great doors at either end were black, ominous portals twice as tall as a person. The only color in the room came from the vase of roses on a table near the door, and a massive tapestry that hung up one massive wall. It was a family tree he realized, must have stretched back centuries, fancifully decorated with birds and dragons and other images. Harry took all this in in a moment but still only had one thing to say.

“I just wanted to go home.”

“The strange thing is Potter.” Draco said warily. “I am.”

“Eh?”

“This is Malfoy manor.”

“Quite correct young Malfoy.”

Harry whirled towards the sound of the voice but a spell took him in the chest and he was thrown back down to the hard stone floor. Through the fuzz of tears he saw three robed figures approaching from the top of a staircase.

On the left Greyback lopped, his savage eyes trained on Harry. On the right, Lucius Malfoy, absentmindedly fingering a long white glove he was wearing. And in the middle…

“Oh my god.” Harry put his hand to his mouth. “You‘re back.”

“Yes Mr Potter I have returned.” Voldemort smiled his reptilian smile. “I said I would did I not?”

“I believe a told you to come back prettier.” Harry said, slowly raising himself up from the floor. “I see you failed to take that to heart.”

“A defiant sentiment that would be perhaps more heroic if your face wasn‘t lined with tears.” Voldemort stepped towards him, passing his two servants. As he brushed by them Lucius gave a little quiver and rubbed his gloved hand. A giant snake, like a python, curled on the ground nearby but made no move to follow the dark lord. Voldemort reached the floor and stopped, he made a twisting motion in the air and Harry’s wand skittered across the marble tiles and jumped into his hand.

Harry cursed under his breath, he hadn’t even realized he’d lost it. It must have been knocked out of his hand when he fell.

“Heroics don’t interest me.” Harry found his feet, his eyes already darting around. Trying to find an exit. “But you could at least have fixed the nose.”

There were the two huge doors but he’d be dead before he reached them. A smaller door by the staircase but that meant running straight towards them. The staircase itself didn’t bear thinking about. Harry’s eyes flicked to Malfoy, frozen on the floor, his face an unreadable mask. Voldemort followed his gaze and turned to the Slytherin.

“I am surprised to see you here young Malfoy.” The dark lord said, towering over him. “You were ordered to make him take the cup, not to take it yourself.”

“Ung….” Malfoy swallowed, his mouth working wordlessly.

“Come now, you have nothing to fear.” Voldemort bent down, bringing his head closer to Draco’s. “You have done me a great service.”

“He… he… he wouldn‘t take the cup.” Malfoy stammered. “He must have thought something was up. I had to grab his arm and push him into it.”

Harry prayed that none of the black robed wizards had noticed who had been hanging onto who’s arm when they had tumbled to the floor a moment ago.

“Why do you think he suspected?” Voldemort was staring directly into Malfoy’s eyes.

“We found Fleur.” Malfoy said, still apparently frozen to the floor. “She was lying dead next to the cup. He thought it must have been the cup that killed her, some kind of curse.”

Not bad Malfoy, not bad at all.

Voldemort stared into the boys grey eyes for a moment longer, then nodded, apparently pleased.

“Our agent at Hogwarts must have had to kill her to stop her taking the cup.” Voldemort placed a long finger under Malfoy‘s chin then stood, bringing the boy up with him. “A shame he could not dispose of the body but I suppose he was having to operate from outside the maze. And in any case the result is the same, Harry Potter is here. You have done your master a great service young Malfoy, almost as great as the one your father performed for me.”

Again that twitch towards the glove. Maybe some sort of weakness he could exploit?

Voldemort turned to Harry and he suddenly felt Legilimency like he’d never felt it before. It was like an axe was being applied to the back of his brain.

Fight back! He screamed at himself. If Voldemort worked out that he and Malfoy were anything other than worst enemies then the blond would die along with him. Harry tore his eyes away but a moment later his face was jerked back forwards. Voldemort was holding him with magic somehow, his head felt like it was stuck in a vice.

Blank mind! Harry repeated to himself. Blank! His hand found the shell necklace under his robes and he hung onto it in desperation, pouring every thought into the little nub of whiteness. Slowly, ever so slowly, the knives receded.

“Amateurish Mr Potter.” Voldemort released him and he slumped to the floor. “But unfortunately effective.”

“Screw… you… snakeface.” Harry panted.

“It does not matter.” Voldemort dismissed it with a wave of his hand. “Your childish tricks will not save you this time.”

“Tricks like stabbing you through the eyes?” Harry grinned evilly. “I never got a chance to tell ya, but when they squished all this gross slime came out. Honestly, it was like popping two huge blackheads. Squish…”

“And yet I live.” Voldemort spread his hands. “And will continue to do so. I am immortal Harry Potter. All you did was weaken me and push me back to being a bodiless soul.”

“Squish…”

“I had to survive again by possessing lesser creatures. Creatures beneath me, vermin and snakes. Until Greyback found me, sniffed me out in the wilds of Albania.”

“Squish… squish… pop…”

“Realizing I needed a more competent servant I had him bring me to Lucius, my servant of old.” Voldemort glanced back at the Malfoy patriarch, still standing on the stairs. “Who did me three great services. First he was able to make me a first potion that restored me some level of physical form, but one that was wretched and weak. A disgusting and disfigured parody of my former power.”

“So you did come back prettier.”

“Secondly…” Voldemort ignored his quip like a tolerant father while smiling a smile that never reached his eyes. “He made me aware of another servant I could use, one that would be able to-”

“Infiltrate Hogwarts.” Harry interrupted. “Put my name in the cup?”

“Five points to Gryffindor Mr Potter,” Voldemort drew his wand. “But minus ten for interrupting. Crucio!”

Harry had time to steel himself before the pain hit and rode it out without too much trouble. It still left him gasping and horse but his mind was clear of the usual shadows and confusion left by the extreme pain. At least he was well practiced at that.

“It all becomes clear.” Harry said, picking himself off the floor. “So you‘ve been here, weak, the whole time. At Malfoy manor.”

“Until Lucius was able to complete the second potion, a few months ago.” Voldemort smiled. “And he was able to render his most personal service.”

The twitch to the glove was not even subtle this time. Suddenly Harry had a thought.

“Ellen Hayward.” Harry saw all eyes, especially Draco’s on the floor, flick to him. “That was you wasn‘t it. She was a friend of this family. This god forsaken family.” Harry added, in case anyone started wondering how he’d come by this information. “The kind that pops by unannounced. Did she pop by at the wrong time?”

“Yes, a fact I regret.” Voldemort shook his head, though Harry would be dammed if he saw a trace of remorse on that twisted face. “She was of a true pure blood house, and an institution in her own right. She will be sorely missed.”

“I‘m sure you‘ll shed a tear every year on the day you poisoned her.” Harry spat back, then smiled a another neuron fired. “And Rita Skeeter? She was looking for a scoop on the triwizard champion. Tried to sneak in.”

“Was that her name?” Voldemort twitched his head to the side as he smiled self indulgently. It struck Harry as a wholly snakelike gesture. “I do not stop to ask the names of insects I kill. And besides, in her case I did you a favor. You should thank me.”

“I‘ll send some flowers.” Harry replied acidly.

“And now I am finally ready to come out of the darkness.” Voldemort said rapturously. “And I have just one question to ask you.”

“Boxers.”

“You have been a stimulating enemy Harry.” Voldemort held out his hand. “And the Potter family is old and proud. Your mothers blood is an issue but… not an insurmountable one. I can offer power beyond your wildest dreams Harry, if you join me.”

“Ok.”

“You… what?”

“Ok. The robe comes free right, I don‘t have to buy it?” Harry began to chuckle, unsuccessfully hiding it behind his hand. “Got good promotion prospects? Where do you see me in three years?” Harry began laughing in earnest, the only sound in the deathly silent hall.

“So I take it you refuse.” Voldemort said coldly.

“Yes, you snake faced, impotent, wanker!” Harry choked out between giggles. “Did you honestly believe my answer would be yes? And anyway, what demented logic makes me thwarting you a good qualification for joining your ranks?”

“I thought you might be persuaded to see reason.” Icicles could have grown on Voldemort’s words.

“Well Tom, I guess we were both wrong.” Harry grinned. “Oh no wait! Just you.”

“What did you call me!” Voldemort stepped forward, bristling with anger.

“What… Tom?” Harry smiled. “Tom Marvolo Ri-”

“Crucio!”

Harry hit the floor but blanked his mind at the same time. He watched his body writhe dispassionately from a point behind his eyes. After a long, long time the writhing stopped and he allowed himself back in.

“Don’t try to speak.” Voldemort was saying. “I took you almost to the limit of what a mind can take.”

“That was the limit?” Harry pushed himself up from the floor. He knew it was masochistic but… “Then why not go for the record… Tommy.”

“You…!”

“Tommy boy.” Harry grinned. “Is that really the best you got?”

“Crucio!”

Harry couldn‘t honesty say how long he lay there behind his own eyes. Longer than the first time certainly. But eventually the pain stopped and he allowed himself back in. It took him a few moments to reorientation himself, his muscles ached and his throat was raw. His body had suffered even though he’d managed to buffer his mind.

“You see my friends.” Voldemort was saying, his back to Harry. “I have broken his mind just as I will break the wizarding world to my will.”

Harry tried to think whether he had a weapon on him, with the snake’s back turned he might have a chance.

“Sire! He‘s awake!” Greyback barked. Damn werewolf eyes.

His cover broken, Harry slid up onto his knees and looked up into the shocked red eyes of Voldemort.

“I… hav…” Harry couldn’t get the words out. He licked his lips and tried again. “I have been burned by time itself, Tom Riddle. Don‘t ever think you scare me. Not ever. You‘re nothing.”

The room was deadly silent. Voldoemort stared at him, confusion evident on his face, then smiled and let out a little laugh.

“Oh how melodramatic.” Voldemort mimed clapping. “Quite well done, I could almost think you had some power over the cruciatus. But you don‘t do you, you‘re simply using occlumency. Sealing the pain away, or sealing yourself from the pain. Very well done, I didn‘t think you had that degree of skill.”

“Your mistake.” Harry tried to smile but the muscles in his mouth didn’t seem to want to so he settled for a rictus grin. “You make a lot of mistakes don’t you Tommy?”

“Do not say-”

“And that‘s the other reason I can‘t work for you.” Harry did manage the grin this time. “I‘d get tired of incompetent management.”

“Really.” Voldemort’s voice was silk over razors. “Then perhaps I should show you the true power of lord Voldemort. Perhaps I will show you that your will means nothing!” The word nothing cracked like whip and Voldemort drew his wand. Harry felt his arm pulled forward against his will.

“Let me give you something you can’t block out.” Voldemort stabbed his wand down onto Harry’s arm. “Morsmordre!”

Harry stared at his arm in shock, at first there was nothing, just a darkening of the skin. Voldemort stepped away, smiling. Then, slowly but surely, the mark faded out of nothing. Growing blacker and more defined by the moment. Then Harry felt his hand clench, the mark seemed to writhe on his forearm. He watched as the darkness spread, like tentacles down every vein, making his hand look like it was encased in black ivy.

The darkness advanced, following the blood up his arm. Harry couldn’t stop himself from scratching at it furiously, trying to slow its progress. Voldemort laughed. The black lines came up his shoulder, across his chest. Then they hit his spine, and the agony began.

Rods of hot iron, knives of fire stabbing into his back. Reaching higher and higher as the curse curled up into his brain. Couldn’t block it out, it was coming in under everything. It was everywhere. Harry saw spiderwebs grow across his eyes as the curse worked its way into the tiny veins. The pain was everywhere now, pulsing up his spine and into every screaming little synapse. It couldn’t be stopped.

Harry escaped the pain the only way he could see how. He lowered himself down and smacked his forehead against the floor as hard as he could.

He heard Voldemort laugh before it all went black.
*


Severus Snape leant back in his chair and considered the lunacy of an entire school, guests, ministry officials, press and assorted other hangers on turning up to stare at a hedge.

“It‘s not as if they can even see anything.” Snape muttered under his breath.

“Eh, what was that Severus?” Flitwick turned to him from the seat to his left.

“I said I was wondering how much longer Mr Malfoy intends to keep us waiting.” Snape said, without missing a beat.

“Still pinning all your hopes on your own house?” Flitwick said slyly.

“Well why wouldn‘t I?” Snape rolled his eyes. He had reconciled with the Potter boy but that didn’t change the fact that he was a Slytherin to the core.

“I personally think Potter will beat him to it. Not a student like him.” Flitwick said proudly. Snape rolled his eyes, hearing Flitwick crow about Potter’s charms ability was a constant irritation.

“What is taking them so long?” Professor Vector said from the other side.

“The fact that it is a maze and not a footrace?” Snape said irritably. “There are obstacles in there you know and in any case it has only been…” Snape pulled his sleeve up to look at his watch.

“What is that?” Filius leant his tiny frame over.

“A wristwatch. They are… quite useful.” Snape said faintly.

“Oh… But shouldn‘t you be looking at the other side?”

“Other side…” Snape stared at his wrist, the watch forgotten as his eyes bored into the black shape standing proud against his pale skin. “No… no no no.”
*


Harry came to lying in something sticky. Blood or vomit? It was beige and it looked like it had peas in it. Probably vomit.

Harry raised his aching head and looked around. His glasses were lying a few inches away, he reached for them and drew them up to his face. Be blinked a few times, at first he though he had gone cross-eyed, then he realized that there really were more than three robed figures in the room.

They were all around him, arranged in a circle, all with deaths head masks on except for Voldemort himself. Harry’s eyes found Draco, standing a little outside the circle, he seemed to be expending a lot of effort hard to keep his face blank.

Harry turned back to Voldemort and tried to make his mouth work.

“Still not as bad as the Torrent.” A dark mutter went up from around the circle. Harry found a dry part of the floor, set his hand against it and pushed. He managed to raise himself high enough to jerk a foot up and lay it flat on the floor. Slowly, surely and against the protests of his aching muscles, Harry stood.

“Well done Harry.” Voldemort folded his arms. “And I thought you would be all out of dramatic, defiant and pointless gestures.”

Harry’s leg spasmed and he was almost tipped back onto the floor. He staggered for a moment then found his feet again. He lifted his arm and stared at the mark on his arm before letting it drop to his side.

“That means nothing.” Harry shook his head, causing shooting pains to run up and down his spine. “You put a pretty tattoo on my arm it doesn‘t mean anything.”

“It means I own you Harry Potter.”

“I‘ve got a Hungarian horntail on my chest does that mean it owns me too?” Harry grinned, his sense of humor was coming back. He couldn’t stand up straight but he could one-liner for England. Harry looked down at his shaking body. “I notice I‘m not dead yet? Do you still actually think I‘ll come over to your side?”

“You are still alive for one reason only.” Voldomort drew his wand. “To tell me something.”

“I already told you boxers.”

“Crucio!”

Pain. Block. Fading. Floor. Blankness. Time…

“Well…” Harry stood again, working the kinks out of his shoulders. “We‘ve established that you don‘t learn quickly.”

“Potter I have humored you thus far.” Voldemort stepped closer. “It stops now, how much does Alasor Moody know?”

The question caught Harry off guard.

“Wha?”

“Crucio!”

Harry waited then sunk back, finding that this time he’d landed with his face squarely in the vomit puddle.

“Lovely.” Harry wondered if it was worth standing. It was fairly clear he wasn’t leaving this room alive, unless by some miracle Moody, Snape, Dumbledore or maybe the ministry found him. He certainly couldn’t leave by his own steam, not the shape he was in. Not without a wand. In that case the best thing he could do was stall the psycho in front of him for as long as possible, and that meant… “Hold on, I‘m getting up…” Harry lurched to his feet.

“I know Moody was investigating poor Madam Hayward‘s death-”

“Her murder.” Harry corrected.

“Cru…” Voldemort raised his wand angrily, then let it fall, the curse not even fully formed. He hissed in irritation. “I know he was investigating it. I know he was doing so at your urging. How much is he aware of?”

“Why the hell would I tell you snakeface?” Harry shrugged. “We‘ve already established that you‘re incapable of torturing me.”

“Really, well let us see how you cope with this.” Voldemort smiled evilly. “Imperio!”

Harry felt the curse enter into like a parasite, shooting into his brain and wrapping it in candy-floss. He tried to block it out but it was tricksy, it found gaps in his blocks. Little wiggling tendrils like roots, finding a little gaps then growing, splitting his brain apart.

Tell me everything.

Harry tried to shake it away, vainly,

How much does he know?

Why not tell him? Harry drew his hands up to his head, he knew that voice was wrong but he couldn’t remember exactly why.

Tell me.

Tell him?

Tell me.

“Don‘t!” The Neville voice in Harry’s mind broke through the fuzz. Waving it’s little mental arms and shaking it’s head. “It‘s Voldemort Harry! Voldemort!”

You will tell me!

“Are you being intentionally dense Harry?” Hermione shouted at him from the other side.

But the nice man wants me to tell him something. Harry blinked like an owl and rubbed his eyes, too much was happening in his head.

Tell me now!

“It‘s Voldemort Harry! VOLDEMORT!” Padma hissed in his ear.

How much does Alastor Moody know!

“He killed your parents!”

Tell ME!

“Can‘t you see him?”

YOU WILL TELL ME!

“ALL OF YOU STOP YELLING!” Harry shouted and dropped to his knees. The voices disappeared and Harry was just left as he was. A scared teenager in a room full of murderers.

“All of who Potter?” Voldemort said in his slimy patronizing voice. “No one is talking.”

Harry just stayed on the floor and tried to breath.

“What is the matter Potter.” Voldemort slid closer. “No jokes, no witticisms?”

Head feels like concrete.

“Maybe now you will tell me what I want to know.” Voldemort stepped up so he was right on top of Harry. “Maybe now-”

“Please.” Harry muttered through clenched teeth.

“What was that Mr Potter?” Voldemort leant down.

“Please no more.” Harry shook his head and held a hand out towards the dark lord.

“Are you ready to tell me?”

“Yes… yes…” Harry stretched his arm out further, pawing at Voldemort’s robes pathetically. “I‘ll tell you… THIS!”

Harry’s fingers clamped down on a skinny leg and he pulled, putting all his weight behind it. Voldemort fell backwards, his face contorted with rage and anger. Cries of horror came from all around but Harry ignored them. He grabbed up and caught Voldemort’s wand out of the air and yelled,

“AVADA-”

Harry was hit from all sides by curses and was thrown back into darkness.
*


Snape’s head snapped to the side as he saw a shining lynx spring through the wall.

“He‘s not at any known location from the last war. ” Shacklebolt’s deep voice came from the patronus. “I‘ll keep looking.”

Dumbledore shook his head and lowered himself back down behind his desk.

“We should be doing something.” Minerva was pacing back and forth across the floor of the headmaster’s office. If she had been transformed her tail would have been twitching irritably.

“She is right.” Snape shook his head. “I could answer the summons, maybe find a way to warn-”

“No.” Dumbledore shook his head. “We have discussed this.”

“And you have unreasonably dismissed it!” Snaps snapped. “You clearly intend for me to spy for you in the future anyway so why not-”

“Severus! I have made my decision.” Dumbledore stood sharply, slamming his hands down onto his desk. In the background Fawkes trilled sadly. “We need to reconvene the order. Minerva, see if Alastor has recovered yet and contact the Weaseys, Lup-”

“For what?” Snape interrupted. “So we can have even more people sitting on their hands while Harry dies?”

“Severus…”

“No Dumbledore. No…” Snape stood to face the old wizard and crossed his arms. “You have ten seconds to give me a compelling reason why I should not go to the boy's aid. Otherwise I am leaving.”

“Severus there is no need-”

“Nine.”

“Threats will not-”

“Eight.”

“You are being unreasonable.”

“As are you. Seven.”

“I forbid it!” Dumbledore said through gritted teeth.

“Six. It is not yours to forbid.”

“You are risking your life!”

“It is mine to risk!” Snape snapped cutting his hand through the air like a scythe. “And you are down to five.”

“This could ruin everything Severus.” Dumbledore said, suddenly seeming panicked. “If we truly have war on the way I will need eyes among the death-eaters. By doing this you risk exposing yourself.”

“Also my choice to make. Not yours.” Snape shook his head. “And have you thought of how will the loss of the boy who lived effect this war? Perhaps spared a thought to what it would do to people‘s morale to see the living evidence of Voldemort‘s mortality die? Have you thought of that?”

“Trust me Severus.” Dumbledore’s voice was harsh and low, with dangerous undertones. “That the fact that Harry gives people hope is never far from my mind. But-”

“By rights you‘ve had ten seconds by now.” Snape interrupted. “But I‘ll give you one last chance.”

“Severus please…”

“Not good enough.” Snape turned and stalked towards the door.

He kept expecting to be stopped, some spell or last ditch argument, but none came. He closed the door behind him and allowed the moving staircase to take him down. As it moved he summoned his patronus, it’s little pointed head and it’s tiny forked tongue sniffing the air.

“I‘m about to do something very dangerous.” Snape said to it softly, pushing his words into it. “I don‘t know if I‘ll return, but it‘s something I feel I must do.”

Snape licked his lips, this wasn’t going well. He should just keep it short.

“I love you.” Snape cursed his bluntness. “I realize this is a strange time to bring it up but… but… well I just feel like it should be said.”

Snape waved the snake away and it sparkled through the wall, heading south towards London.
*


“Albus?” Minerva asked softly after the Potions master had gone. Dumbledore hadn’t moved or spoken, he was just staring off into space. “Albus?”

“Look in on Alastor.” Dumbledore repeated. “And contact Lupin. I will do the rest.” He was still staring at the door, his sharp eyes boring into the old wood.

“I understand.” McGonagall stepped towards the door, then paused. This was not easy to do but… “Albus…”

“Hmm?”

“He‘s not wrong you know.” Dumbledore stared at her. McGonagall couldn’t hold that gaze for long and turned to leave the room.
*


“Potter… Oh Potter… Time to stand up again.”

Harry’s eyes cracked open and he looked up into Voldemort’s face. His whole body ached from the layer cake of curses that he had suffered over the last hour. Or was it longer? He had such a shaky grasp of time when he was unconscious. Harry managed to raise his head and look around.

Yep, still in the same place, surrounded by nasties. Or… wait… was there one more of them than before? Harry’s eye’s scanned around the circle of dark robed figures. Maybe it was his imagination. That or the pain was making him hallucinate.

There was one difference, Draco was no longer lurking idily behind the lines. He was standing in the center, just a few paces from Voldemort. He was facing Harry and he had his wand.

“Come on Potter.” Voldemort urged. “Up! Up! Where’s that Gryffindor spirit?”

“I‘m not a Gryffindor.” Harry muttered. “I‘m a marauder.” But apparently Voldemort didn’t hear him.

“Now we can‘t have you lazing around all day Potter. Up!”

Harry felt himself lifted off the floor and dropped back onto his feet. His knees buckled and he stumbled, only to be pushed upright again by the invisible force. He fell the other way, his hands coming up to stop himself but again he was caught and flung upright. He tottered but managed to hold his balance on shaking legs.

“That‘s better.” Voldemort said indulgently.

“Why the hell haven’t you killed me.” Harry groaned weakly. “Is it just sadism?”

“Oh you will die Mr Potter.” Voldemort smiled. “There was never any question of that. I intend your death to be the final sign to the world that I have returned, the seal for my immortality and retribution for what happened on Halloween fourteen years ago.”

Seal for my immortality.

Seal for my immortality?

What the hell did that mean? Harry filed it away for later.

“So yes Harry you will be killed. I was going to give you the gift of a painless death, and I would have killed you myself after your ill advised escape attempt.”

“Murder attempt.” Harry said darkly. “I never expected to live. Just hoped to take you down.”

“The Gryffindor spirit returns.” Voldemort smiled. “But you would be dead except for one thing. I would still like to know how much the old auror knows. And young Malfoy here seems to think he can make you tell me.”

Voldemort stepped back and let Draco come forward.

He has a plan. Harry overrode all doubts in his mind. Every little sly voice saying that Malfoy had betrayed him was squashed in an instant. It didn’t matter if he was wrong, it didn’t matter if he was being too trusting, because if he was wrong he was dead anyway. Harry decided he would rather hope.

“You really should tell him Potter.” Draco said. “You know that. I don‘t really want to do this to you.”

“Just do what you have to do.” Harry dropped his head to his chest and waited for whatever was coming.

“Depulso!” Harry flew through the air and impacted onto one of the marble walls with a painful thud. “Adhaereo!” Harry sagged as the sticking charm took effect, hanging a clear foot above the floor.

“Familiar Potter?” Malfoy smirked as he sauntered over. “I think a bit of payback is in order.”

He has a plan. He has a plan.

“Bullabazooka.”

The bubble head charm? What the he… Oh no!

“Augmenta!” Malfoy stuck his wand through the bubble and Harry felt water begin to fill the shimmering sphere.

“What are you doing boy?” One of the death eaters called out harshly. But Voldemort silenced him with a wave of his hand.

The water was up to his nose and Harry was beginning to panic. He jerked his head frantically, trying to dislodge the bubble. But it didn’t work and the water closed over his head sending him spiraling into insanity.

He tried desperately to maintain some shred of willpower or sense as he breathed in the water in great gulps. But anything he had went out the window as waves of pain coursed out from his chest, settling into every cell of his body. With his mind in tatters he was unable to block it out.

A moment later the bubble popped and Harry was left coughing and wracked with pain.

“You see I had this brilliant idea.” Malfoy was saying cheerfully. “Just because you an block out the cruciatus curse doesn‘t mean we shouldn‘t use it. It just means we have to find some way to weaken your mind. A good dose of paralyzing fear for example.”

Harry didn’t trust himself to speak. He just hung there and panted.

“So just tell your Lord what he want‘s to know and this suffering can end.”

Why not?

“Just tell him!” Malfoy yelled. “Fine then, lets try this again!”

Harry screamed as he was drown then plunged into a world of pain once more. By the end he couldn’t even move. Didn’t have the will. He really was betrayed, all hope was gone.

“I don‘t want to have to do this Potter.” Malfoy smirked. “But you‘ve insulted my master, and I take such things seriously. After all, this is a true old pure blood house.”

A light came on in Harry’s brain. That last phrase, ‘old pure blood house’, why use that phrase? Where had he heard…

When he’d hit the wall… had it sounded a little… hollow?

Harry breathed deeply. If he was right he would have to hope that willpower could replace strength and stubbornness, muscle because in a few moments he would have to run. Harry tried to move his legs as much as he could on the wall, working the cramps out in preparation.

Why hadn’t Malfoy done it yet? Harry lifted his head up. Malfoy was just standing there waiting.

He needs a reason, Harry realized. He can’t just do it out of the blue, he needs a reason.

“Malfoy…” Harry licked his lips. “Old pure blood house? That's a joke. Your father didn't tell you? Your mother was a whore.”

“Reducto!”

Harry braced himself and screamed as the spell hit his chest. The marble sheet behind him shattered and he was thrown into the passage beyond.

MOVE NOW!

Harry found some muscles and, as curses started sparking against the wall above his head, started to run.
________________________________________


Review, please. Or I'll kill this small fluffy animal. No not that one the other one.

________________________________________
“Where is Harry!” Ron yelled. “Why the hell won‘t you tell us?”

“Mr Weasley calm down.” Professor McGonagall spread her hands calmingly. The marauders had ambushed her outside Dumbledore’s office. Normally she would have taken house points for the bad language, but this seemed like an exceptional circumstance. “If I knew I would tell you.”

“You‘re trying to find him though.” Neville asked desperately. “Dumbledore‘s doing everything he can?”

“Everything that can be done is being done.” McGonagall answered. “No get out of my way-”

“Please Professor.” Padma stepped in front of the teacher. “We‘re not useless. Look at all we‘ve done. We know this is serious. We know this is awful, Fleur is already dead. We know you‘re trying to help but so are we. And we‘re not useless. So use us.”

McGonagall took a deep breath, ready to lecture them. Ready to brush them aside.

“Please,” Miss Weasley pleaded. “There must be something we can do.”

“We just want to help.” Padma added with the others nodding behind her. “We need to do something.”

McGonagall took another breath, this time to ready herself.

“Go to the hospital wing.” She could see the lights come on in their eyes. “If Moody is able to be moved have him taken to the Headmasters office. Then corral the prefects together and help them get everyone back to their common rooms.”

“Is that it?” Ron asked hurriedly.

“Yes.” McGonagall paused, in for a penny… “No. Mr or Miss Weasley, one of you go to my office and flue your parents. Tell them Dumbledore needs them. Tell them it’s for ‘The Order’.”

“Dad‘ll be at work.”

“Get them wherever they are.” McGonagall snapped. “Make nuisances of yourselves until you get them. You know how to do that. And find Viktor Krum and watch him. He was the only other one in that maze, if he tries to run off. Stop him.”

“Got it.” Ron nodded and McGonagall strode off. As she went she could hear them breaking themselves into groups to take the different tasks.
*


Harry’s foot skidded on a bottle as he pelted down the dusty corridor holding his aching chest.

“Which way‘d he go?”

“Split up!”

Harry slowed down enough to become silent and ducked under a low beam. He took another turn. And another.

“Another bloody maze.” Harry thought as he reached a small staircase down. It ended in a massive underground storage room, piled high with boxes and crates. There was a suit of armor, complete with sword, in one corner and what looked like a stuffed alligator shoved up against the back wall. Even stranger things were piled haphazardly all over the place, strange devices, giant bones and artifacts covered with motheaten dustsheets. Everything was covered in a thick layer of dust.

Harry managed to get behind a box and collapsed down on the floor. He couldn’t run anymore, not without passing out again. The words of Madam Pomfrey floated out of his subconscious…

The human body has certain limitations. You cannot just keep heaping abuse on it and expect it to keep working properly.

He had reached those limits. He had passed those limits. Harry leant his head back against the rough wood. Unless he found a way out of here soon and got some medical attention there was very real chance he would die anyway. If there was a way out of here. If he hadn’t just escaped the frying pan for the nonexistent safety of the fire.

Harry’s eyelids drooped. So tired…

“Stop you!”

Running feet!

Harry jerked awake in a moment. Someone was in the room. More than one someone.

“Got you you little… Petrificus Totalus!” Something thumped against the floor. They weren’t after him? Harry leant out from around his box.
*


“Petrificus Totalus!”

Draco was caught off guard as the spell smacked him from the side. In that instant he knew he was dead. He felt his petrified body scrape along the floor as his momentum carried him into a pile of rotted bags.

“Well little boy…” Draco saw a masked face come into view. A moment later the mask came down and the cruel face of Walden Macnair. “You‘re like a little rat aren‘t you. Well you‘ve reached the end of the run…”

Draco could only stare at the evil smirking man leaning over him.

“We‘re going back to the dark lord boyo.” Macnair stood and flicked his wand down towards Draco. “And then you can see what happens when you try to put one over on the dark lord. Oh you‘ll… oh… oh… o…”

Macnair had frozen, little gulps of sound popping out from his mouth. His wand fell from his limp fingers as a thin trickle of blood began seeping from his lips. He blinked in confusion, and turned towards the door.

Revealing both the foot long blade embedded in his back and Harry Potter.

Malfoy could only watch as Harry dropped to one knee and scraped Macnair’s wand off the floor. He stood again, with obvious effort and croaked,

“Finite Incantatem…”

Malfoy felt his limbs go slack and he pushed himself to his feet.

“Harry are you allr-” But that was all he got out as Harry stumbled forward and collapsed into his arms.

“You‘d better know some healing charms.”
*

Harry hadn’t meant to collapse onto his friend, his knees had just refused to work anymore. He found himself unable to do anything other than hang limply as Malfoy dragged him behind a box and propped him against the wall.

Harry couldn’t even speak as Malfoy left again. A moment later he returned, dragging the body of Macnair.

“Thanks.” Malfoy whispered.

“Owed you one.” Harry felt his breath coming in ragged gasps. “Why was he trying to get you?”

“What do you mean why?”

“I mean I…” Harry had to break off as he was struck with a wracking cough. When he brought his hand back from his mouth it was spotted with blood. “I assumed you would try to pass my escape off as an accident.”

“Harry…” Malfoy shook his head. “Do you know what Voldemort does to people who make that kind of mistake?”

“Evisceration…” Harry grinned. “I‘m betting evisceration.”

“As a start.”

“So we‘ve become rats in the walls.” Harry tried to move his legs again, they jerked a little. “Does this wall have an exit?”

“Tunnel that goes to a field south of here.” Malfoy nodded. “My father doesn’t know about it.”

“But you do?”

“Oh please. I practically lived down here before I came to Hogwarts.” Malfoy hesitated. “You got my hint didn‘t you?”

“‘Old pure blood house’?” Harry chuckled painfully. “Old pure blood houses used to have wizard servants. Wizard servants need servants passages. I got it.”

“Good. Good…” Malfoy nodded again. He seemed to be looking for something. Hoping…

“Shall we go then?” Harry grabbed the wall and tried to stand. He got about a foot off the floor before his legs gave out and he fell back to the floor. “Did you have to reducto me so hard?”

“You‘re blaming this on me?” Malfoy stepped closer and lifted Harry’s arm over his shoulder. “You were the one who kept calling Voldemort Tommy Boy.”

“It was irritating him.”

“Exactly.”

“Wait…” Harry stopped as they staggered out from behind the packing crates. “Can you get me to a sky?”

“A… a what?”

“I mean a window.” Harry shook his cobweb infested head. “A window or a skylight or something. I just need a… way to see upwards.”

“Alright Harry.” Malfoy started moving them forward. “I‘ll humor you.“

Harry saw where they were headed, a large chimney. When they reached it Harry dropped to his knees in front of it.

“What are you doing Harry?” Malfoy asked. “We need to move, they‘ll find us.”

“We need people to know.” Harry slid himself onto the cracked tiles. “We need to get Dumbledore or someone or Moody or someone or-”

“I get it.” Malfoy sounded confused. “But they‘ll have closed the flues.”

“Not what I‘m planning.” Harry stabbed his stolen wand into the air. “Just giving them a sign they can‘t ignore.

“What si-”

“Morsmordre!”

Harry was bathed in sickly green light as the spell erupted up the chimney. As it hit the sky Harry saw it blossom out and form the glowing scull.

“There,” Harry grinned. The blood on his face and the light filtering down from above gave him the look of a drown corpse. “Now we can go.”

“You‘re insane Harry.”

“So I‘m told.”
*


“Let me through!” Krum tried to push past the twins and was thrown back.

“Nope.”

“I just vant to go to the bathroom.”

“Nope.”

“I vill not try to run!”

“Nope.” George shrugged. “Sorry pal.”

“Don‘t you know who I am?”

“Yep.” Fred folded his arms. “You‘re Viktor Krum.”

“Quiditch hero.”

“Triwizard champion.”

“Babe magnet.”

“Winner of Witch Weekly’s least charming smile award.”

“Moody bastard extraordinaire.”

“Now ask who we are.”

“You… you….” Krum spluttered incoherently. “Who do you think you-”

“Glad you asked.” George grinned. “We are part of the marauders.”

“We are Harry Potter.”

“We are his eyes and ears.”

“His good right hands.”

“And if you think you‘re getting past us.” George drew his wand. “You‘ve got another thing coming.”
*


“We have not found them master.” Crabbe lowered his head in shame.

“Obviously you have not as they are not here.” The dark lord snarled and turned his wand on his cowering servant. “Crucio!”

Snape tried to remain dispassionate as the death eater screamed in pain. It was far far harder than he remembered. He was very thankful of the mask that covered any slips in his expression.

“And you Lucius?” The dark lord turned on the blonde wizard. “Surely they cannot hide from you in your own home?”

“I have asked the house elves to-”

“House elves? House elves! You leave a task I gave you to house elves?!”

Snape felt his stomach clench and sent a silent prayer that it was not him at the receiving end of that anger, or the punishment that followed it. Had it always felt like this? Surely not… he remembered being almost eager for this work, gaining a sense of triumph that he had hoodwinked the dark lord. Now he just felt scared, scared and small and frozen like a rat. He just wanted to get out.

“And you Severus…”

No…

“You who come crawling back to me late and unapologetic.”

“I have explained Master-”

“And I have excepted your explanation.” Dismissed with a wave of his long pale hand. “Or else you would not be here. I am not displeased that you can remain my spy in the order.”

“I live to please you my lord.” Oh lord let me leave this place safely.

“And you have taught Harry Potter and the traitor Malfoy for the past four years.” The dark lord said thoughtfully. “Where would they go?”

“Malfoy I cannot speak to.” Snape shook his head. “His defection came as a complete surprise to me-” No need to lie there. “-so I do nor presume to predict his future actions.”

“And Potter…” Impatient, soon to be anger.

“Potter is a rat. He will go to ground.” Snape lied quickly. “We have searched the secret passages but Potter has also shown a preference for the rooftops-” and is not stupid enough to hide there where there is no escape. “-we should check there.”

“Master!” Snape was interrupted as frantic wizard dashed in from the garden. “The dark mark has been cast!”

“What! I gave no orders to cast the mark!”

So who… Oh smart boy. Snape felt the muscles in his face twitch, wanting to break into a foolish grin.

“Master,” Snape felt those red eyes turn on him. “Potter may have cast it himself to warn the ministry. It is the sort of thing he would do.”

“That…” The Dark lord looked almost impressed. “That is surprisingly resourceful.”

“You are… pleased my lord?”

“It is pleasing to have an opponent who is not an old fool.” The dark lord smiled. “I almost feel young. And besides this is only one aspect of my plan.”

“My lord the ministry will-” Snape began but was cut off by a curt wave of the dark lords thin hand.

“The ministry will find us. ” The dark lord looked off into the distance, his eyes narrowing. “Good.”
*


“Thank you all for coming at such short notice.” Dumbledore was speaking from behind his desk looking out over the office. “But the fact is that what I have feared has come to pass. Voldemort had returned.”

The people crowding the office didn’t speak, didn’t murmur, they had expected this. McGonagall shook her head, if it wasn’t for the horror of the situation it would almost be like old times.

“And Harry Potter and Mr Malfoy are both most likely in his clutches.” Dumbledore shook his head. “We need to be ready as soon as we know where they are.”

“How can we find him?” Molly Weasley said from the back of the room.

“Severus is trying to find out. If he can safely contact us he will.” Dumbledore didn’t stumble over the evasion.

“And if not?”

“Shacklebolt is also looking into it.” Dumbledore held up a hand to stop any further objections. “Now you all remember what to do. Be ready to leave the moment we get the word.”

The room was filled with nervous shuffling and muttering as people began shucking off any heavy or restrictive clothing or transfiguring them into garments more suited to combat.

McGonagall herself checked that her hair was securely out of the way before casting some prophylactic charms against minor hexes. She glanced towards the door to the tower. A marauder would undoubtedly be stationed outside, waiting for news. She thought of going out there, but what was the use if they knew nothing more.

“They know.” Minerva turned to see the tired face of Mad Eye Moody. “They‘re good kids.”

“They know what?”

“That we‘re doing everything we can.”

“Are we?” Minerva felt like a traitor for voicing that though.

“Can you think of anything else?” Moody shook his head and sighed. He was leaning rather heavily on a cane. McGonagall had seen him when Longbottom had lead him up here. The auror had practically been leaning on the kid. Moody noticed her looking and growled. “I‘m fine. Nothing a little fight won't cure. Warm the old muscles up.”

“Surely you yourself don‘t intend to-”

“If we can drag bureaucrat from their desks and housewives from their kitchens and expect them to fight like aurors then this real auror is sure as hell going too.” Moody shook his head. “We‘re not ready.”

“We should be. We‘ve had months.”

“Well we‘re not. And it‘s too late now.” Moody sighed. “You think we‘re too old for this?”

“If the old don’t fight it falls to the young.” Minerva glanced back at the door, thinking of a little black-haired boy with too many scars for his age. “And none of us want that.”

“Guess not.”

“Minerva!” McGonagall turned to see Dumbledore behind her. “Where is Lupin? I asked you to get him.”

“It is full moon Albus.” She saw a flicker of something strange cross the headmasters lined face. “You knew that. Didn‘t you…”

McGonagall was interrupted by the glowing lynx that burst in through the wall of the office.

“The dark mark was raised over Malfoy Manor!” Shacklebolt sounded hurried. “Aurors have already been dispatched.”

“Fawkes!” Dumbledore held out his hand and the Phoenix fluttered over onto it. “Everyone take a tail feather. Be ready to fight the moment we arrive. Our primary task is to find Harry.”

If he’s still alive. Minerva found herself praying as she grasped a long feather.
*


Harry pushed the heavy wooden door open and felt the wind hit his face.

“We‘re out.” Harry smiled as he leant against the doorframe, gulping in the night air.

“And you‘re walking on your own.” Malfoy said encouragingly.

“Yeah.” Harry rolled his eyes. “Give me a few more hours and I‘ll be running marathons.”

“I was being sarcastic.”

“Oh. So was I.”

“I know.”

“I was more obvious.” Harry chuckled, then froze as he looked up at the sky. “Oh shit.”

“What? Wha… Oh…”

The two teenagers stared at the full moon hanging just over the horizon. Harry reacted first.

“Move!” Harry pushed Malfoy away from the door and pushed it shut before slamming on three evil locking charms and an eviler curse.

“My dad doesn’t know about-”

“Doesn‘t need to.” Harry cut him off. “Greyback‘ll track us, probably already behind us.”

As if on cue a rough bark sounded, echoing from deep down the tunnel.

“Then what do we do?” Malfoy had his wand out and was backing away from the door.

“Run.” Harry ignored the ache in his legs and started towards the edge of the field and a small stand of trees. “Maybe we can lose them.”

“Lose a werewolf? At night.” Malfoy was easily keeping pace with him.

“We can try.”

“We‘ll fail.”

“Do you want to die right here?“ Harry hissed angrily. “Fine, stay and get mauled!”

“We need a better plan.”

“Well we don‘t…” Harry shook his head. “You‘re right. They can outrun us easily. We try to escape this way we‘re dead.”

“So what?”

“I don’t know!” Harry grabbed his chest as a stab of pain shot through him. “I don‘t know Malfoy… I‘m sorry.”

Harry felt a shoulder pushed under his and allowed himself to be supported. They would go faster like this anyway. Wait…

“Malfoy you go.” Harry felt the other teenager slow to a halt.

“What?”

“If you drop me they‘ll find me. Take me back. Chance they‘ll ignore you.” Harry let his head drop, he was just slowing them down. “It‘s the best chance for one of us to get out of this.”

There was a long moment of silence. All Harry could hear was the sound of his own labored breathing.

“Stupid Gryffindors.” Malfoy muttered under his breath before yanking Harry forwards.

“Malfoy…”

“Don‘t say it again Harry! Just don‘t!” Malfoy shook his head. “We‘re getting out of this! We have to because otherwise my father‘s won. You understand me Harry? And I didn‘t spit in the face of the dark lord just to see my father win.”

Harry let himself be led in silence. A flash of light came from behind them, lighting up the dark field. Harry craned his neck and saw the doorway in the hill glowing a faint blue.

“How long do you think it‘ll take them to get through?” Malfoy panted.

“Not long enough.” Harry shook his head. “We can‘t run. Won’t work. We need to do something else.”

“Like what?”

“Like fight.”

As Harry began explaining he saw Malfoy’s expression go from hopelessness to a vicious grin. They pushed further into the forest as another flash of light slashed out behind them.
*


“What the hell was that?” Auror Dawlish scowled.

“I didn‘t see anything?” Jandred said irritably.

Idiot never see’s anything. Tonks found herself thinking and only just stopped herself from saying it out loud. Instead she said,

“I saw it too Dawlish.”

“Of course you did.” Dawlish rolled his eyes as if he assumed she was lying. “Just concentrate on the gate.”

“Yes sir.” Tonk’s turned back to the gate of Malfoy manor, trying to ignore the glowing scull in the sky. She tried the normal unlocking spells, not really expecting them to work.

“Oh move over.” Dawlish pushed her out of the way. “You‘ll never open it that way.”

“I‘d just starte-”

“Quiet trainee.”

Tonk’s gritted her teeth. Whenever Dawlish called her trainee he made it sound like an insult.

“If you‘re not going to do anything useful you might as well investigate that light.” Dawlish sneered. “The one you saw.”

“But sir the dark ma-”

“Probably vandals.” Jandred shrugged.

“Sir?”

“I gave you an order missy.” Dawlish smiled at her. “Go investigate the light. Leave this to us.”

Tonk’s didn’t trust herself to speak. She just turned and apparated for the rough location of the light. She appeared a few feet above the ground and fell backwards as she landed.

“Ow!” Tonk’s picked herself up and looked around. It was obvious where the light had come from. There was a door lying on the floor, blown off its hinges. Tonk’s lit her wand and glanced over the area of bare dirt around the rough tunnel entrance. There were tracks all around, human and dog.

No… not dog.

Tonk’s looked closer and cursed under her breath. Werewolf. And some of the other shoeprints looked like children. She sent a spray of red sparks into the air and set off in the direction of the hunt. She ran as fast as she could through the tall grass and only slowed as she reached the edge of the trees.

She had to, or she’d have crashed into the death eater.

Tonk’s had her wand out and ready to curse before she realized he was in no shape to fight. One of his legs was trapped in a bear trap, he was writhing on the ground, his mouth open to scream. Silenced she realized. Tonk’s stunned him and conjured ropes to bind him just in case. More red sparks in the air, not that she thought they’d be heeded, and she picked her way deeper into the forest.

Not a mile further she found another. This one a tree had engulfed. Only his legs were visible, hanging limply. He was clearly dead, suffocated.

Tonk’s swallowed and kept going, carefully.
*


“Do you think Harry‘s alright?”

“I don‘t know Herm.” Padma shook her head as she shepherded some first years towards their classmates. “I don‘t know.”

“He usually gets out ok.” Pavarti said with a weak smile. “I don‘t know… I just kind of always assumed he could survive anything.”

“Everyone has limits. Even Harry.”

“Then why has he never reached them?”
*


Harry pushed open the disused farmhouse door and staggered inside.

“Razorcurse on the doormat.” Malfoy said quickly, breathing in little gasps. “Maybe collapse the place with them inside.”

“No.” Harry wrenched open a wardrobe and pushed it’s contents on the floor before shoving it against the door. “We can thin them out with booby traps and curses but we‘ll have to fight them somewhere. Here‘s as good as anywhere. It‘s defensible, doesn‘t look like anyone lives here anymore.”

“But Harry…”

“I‘d rather meet them on ground I chose than in the middle of nowhere.” Harry ducked into another room and pulled open a chest of drawers.

“What are you looking for?” Malfoy was nervously eyeing the surrounding woods.

“Anything we can use.” Harry leant against the doorframe before pushing away and looking in what looked like the bedroom. “I don’t even know… I‘m just keeping moving.”

“Shall I block up the windows?”

“Do it.” Harry nodded. “Add something nasty if they try and get in. Then get upstairs.”

“You think we can really get them?”

“Hope so.” Harry grinned evilly. “I want to get me a wolfskin rug.”
*


McGonagall fell out of the phoenix fire and instantly became her cat form. After scanning around with senses far better than her own she transformed back and nodded to Dumbledore.

“Alastor in front. Minerva, if you would back him up.” Dumbledore motioned them forward. “Kingsly, bring up the rear.”

McGonagall let Moody pass in front of her, his eye whirling in its socket as he tried to take in everything. She knew her part and transformed again to follow him. Her sensitive ears picked up the other members of the order following close behind.

The gate of the manor was wide open. Minerva saw Moody pause and mutter a few spells before stepping cautiously over the threshold. She slinked after him. They probably looked very much like Filch and Mrs Norris McGonagall realized.

The wide courtyard fanned out in front of them, a fountain quietly tinkling away in the center. There was a band of gravel around it, then grass, then flowerbeds. She saw Moody instinctively move to the side where the shrubs would give him cover.

Smell…

McGonagall lifted her nose to try to pinpoint it. Coming from the other side of the fountain. She pressed her belly down close to the gravel and slinked around the edge. She poked her little flat head around the corner and saw black cloth. Black robed sprawled on the ground. Vacant expression. Wand fallen from outstretched hand. They were aurors, or had been. Her eye landed on the sand next to the bodies and she shied back in surprise. A wing shape was scratched there in the dirt as if with a boot, a symbol the order used. She darted back in shock and transformed back.

“It‘s a trap!” She yelled, crouched behind the stonework. “The auror’s are dead! He‘s-”

She was cut off as the fountain exploded, throwing her to the floor. She felt herself pulled sharply out of the way as the curses began flying.
*


“Ferio!” Harry shot out a window and ducked as the answering curse blew a chunk out of the wall. He looked across at Malfoy who was crouching under another window. “How many of them are there!?”

“I don‘t know Potter I‘m not trying to count them!”

“Bugger!” Harry popped up and aimed a spell at a patch of darkness before being thrown backwards as a fireball engulfed the window. “Depulso flames!”

The fire exploded outwards and Harry was pretty sure he heard someone scream in pain. Harry dashed to another gap in the walls and shot a stunner at a crouching shape on the ground.

“I think there‘s five of them!” Malfoy shouted at him. “Plus Greyback!”

Harry was about to answer but had to throw himself forward as the whole back wall of the house was ripped away. He had to duck as a storm of spells flew at him from the now unprotected back. Harry looked back and grinned in sadistic pleasure as he aimed his wand at the floating wall.

“Finite!” The expanse of brickwork dropped and Harry heard someone cry out. A cry that ended in the crunch of stone hitting earth, and flesh. “Got one!”

“At the expense of a wall!”

“Still got one!” Harry ducked behind a dresser and tried to ignore the way the floor was slanting. Harry looked out in time to see a figure trying to climb the stairway. “Stupefy!”

The death eater blocked his spell but Malfoy’s caught him in the side and pitched him off the building. Harry was about to yell something encouraging when he was driven to the floor by a falling beam. He looked up in time to roll out from under another. He looked up further to see the red eyes and hooked claws of the werewolf burrowing through the ceiling.

Harry raised his wand but was blown to the side as the assault from outside stepped up.

“Draco little help!” Harry looked over but the blond boy was nowhere to be found. “No no no…”

Harry clutched his wand and prayed as Greyback fell in front of him.
*


“Harry!” Draco tried to yell but was cut off as a strong arm wrapped around his head. His wand was pried from his fingers as he was dragged backwards. He tried to struggle but he was lifted off the ground and carried. Draco kicked as hard as he could but his captor only grunted. He felt the heat of the burning wood grow further away.

He was dumped, wand less, onto the floor. He rolled and looked up at his kidnapper. His father.

“Father I-”

“Listen you fool.” His father reached down and grabbed him by his hair. “You have made a mockery of everything I taught you. You are a disgrace to the Malfoy name.”

“No…” Draco found himself trying to shake his head.

“Shut up!” The Slytherin felt his jaw clamp shut. His father continued. “You are a walking corpse while you are within the dark lords reach. And whatever else you have done you are still my son. My only heir.”

“Father I-”

“You will go into hiding.” Lucius continued hastily. “You will go where he cannot find you.”

“No!” Malfoy found himself saying. Not as strongly as he’d have liked but still… “I won‘t go.”

“This is not a game Draco!” His father cuffed him with the back of his hand, sprawling him on the floor. “You must continue the family line. Regain something out of the mess you have made of everything.”

“I don‘t care!”

“Listen to me!” Lucius grabbed him by his ear and pulled him painfully to his feet. “I risk the dark lord‘s displeasure just by doing this much. You will obey me!”

“No! Let me go!” Malfoy punched out blindly and felt his fist hit flesh. He was dropped to the floor and tried to scramble away. There was a fallen death eater on the other side of the farmyard. His wand near his limp fingers. Malfoy dashed towards it.

“Crucio!”

Malfoy felt pain beyond imagining. Flames ran up and down every nerve. How had Harry survived this? Occlumency! Malfoy tried to blank his mind but the torment was already over.

“Maybe now you will listen to me!” His father yelled, the flames from the farmhouse painting his pale visage a demonic red. “Maybe now you will-”

“Drop the wand!”

Both Malfoy’s turned to the new voice coming from the edge of the forest.

“Drop it now!”
*


Tonk’s advanced on the death eater. Trying to shift his attention from the kid onto her.

“Drop the wand or I‘ll be forced to hurt you.” She tried to remember the exact phrasing the auror handbook had taught her but her mind was a blank. “And step away from the child.”

“This is my son young lady.” The death eater said with a smirk. “I will discipline him how I see fit.”

“Not with an unforgivable you won't.” Without taking her eye’s off him she dipped one hand into her pocket and pulled out her badge. “You are under arrest for-”

“Avada Kedavra!”

Her training kicked in on instinct and she threw herself to the side. Her response was in the air before she even hit the ground and it hammered her opponent back towards the farmhouse despite his raised shield.

Tonk’s pushed herself up and ran between the death eater and the kid, who was still sprawled on the floor.

“Give up!” She yelled. “More aurors are coming!”

The death eater responded with a barrage of curses that she was forced to give ground to counter.

“Reducto!” Tonks blew up the ground near his feet and saw him stagger away, blinded. “Stupefy!”

“Protego!” He cast blind but it worked, making her duck to avoid her own spell. “Crucio!” This one went wide and she grinned, this was almost over.

“Imperio!”

It caught her by surprise. The spell taking her over, covering her. She tried to fight it off but it was useless. She could already see his wand coming back up. It was an old dark wizard trick, the next spell would be-

“Avada K-”

“Expelliarmus!” The spell hit the death eater from the side and threw him into the side of the farmhouse. Already weakened beyond repair the wall caved in, burying the death eater in rubble. With a hideous crash the rest of the house teetered, then fell sideways, almost like it was folding. As it crashed to the ground a huge cloud of dust was thrown up, covering everything.

Tonk’s looked in the direction the spell had come from. The boy was standing there, the wand of the fallen death eater in hand. His face contorted in horror.

“Father…” He ran to the side of the rubble pile and began levitating huge chunks of brickwork off. “Father I didn‘t mean…” He stopped and stumbled back, tripping over a rock and falling to the ground.

From where she was Tonks could just see what he could. The death eater she had fought, with a piece of wood clear through his chest. Dead.

The boy was shaking, his hands clasped over his mouth. Tonk’s was about to go to him when something shifted in the pile of rubble. A beam was pushed aside and a disheveled figure crawled out from under it, his fingers barely managing to find purchase as it clawed its way free.

“Harry!” The boy was up on his feet and running towards the figure. He managed to throw the rest of the rubble off the one called Harry and pulled him away from the wreckage. Tonk’s watched as he leant him up against a rock. “Harry are you ok?”

“Fine.” Harry croaked, his skin covered in black ash. “Just fine. Need water.”

The boy conjured some and doused Harry with it, making him look almost human. Tonk’s jumped as the water revealed a scar on his forehead. Could it be that Harry?

“This is blood.” The other boy was saying. “Did greyback get you did-”

“Nah,” Harry waved a charred hand. “I‘m an old hand at the werewolf fighting thing.”

“Is he dead?”

“If he‘s not he‘s got the longest, most invisible, neck in the world.” Harry grinned, his teeth were stained with blood.

“Are you sure you‘re ok? Harry look the aurors are here.” The other boy said encouragingly. “We‘re safe. We‘re alright we can go back-”

“No!” Harry grabbed the other boy’s arm. “What you need to do is make fakes of us!”

“What? I don’t unders-”

"I need you to make fake corpses so it looks like we're dead!"

"W... Why?"

“Because I worked it out. Who it is.” Harry was talking fast now, his eyes desperate. “Who killed Fleur. Who tried to kill Moody. Who put my name in the cup in the first place. It‘s so simple it all comes down to the map. So simple I should have… Dumbledore should have… Anyone could have worked it out! Even worse if he‘s smart, and I know he is, I know what he‘ll try to do next.”

“But why do I have to make fak-”

“Because right now he thinks he‘s safe.” Harry grabbed the other boys shoulder. “And a man’s life is at stake along with the rest. He thinks he‘s safe but if we survive he won’t so he‘ll move him and we won’t find him. That‘s why we have to die Draco. We have to die.”

“I…” The boy Draco paused, the flames of the burning house still popping in the night. “I can‘t do it.”

“Malfoy you ha-”

“I know what you‘re asking I just can‘t.” Draco shook his head. “That kind of transfig if beyond me. I can‘t do it.”

“I can.” Tonks' voice caught in her throat. Why had she said that? The two boys turned to her. Harry’s eyes wide as if only now really noticing she was there.

“Who the hell are you?” Harry tried to stand but collapsed back on the floor. “And why are you purple?”

“I‘m Tonks. Auror Trainee Tonks. Hi!” She made a sort of wave. It was a strange introduction, amidst bodies and a burning house.

“You know her?” Harry turned to Malfoy, clearly confused.

“She tried to fight…” Malfoy swallowed and glanced towards the ruins. “She fought them.”

“You trust her?”

“Well I think.” Malfoy glanced at her squinting. “I think she‘s my cousin.”

What! Tonks’ jaw dropped.

“Well well well.” Harry grinned his bloody smile again. “I guess we need three bodies.”
________________________________________


More reviews please, if I reach 100 I get a plastic toy!

________________________________________
I don't own Harry Potter, but (hopefully soon) I will own a small plastic toy.
________________________________________


“We found them near the ruins of a house nearby.” Shacklebolt said tonelessly.

McGonagall felt something break inside her and she squeezed her eyes tight shut against the tears.

“There was one of my Trainees there too. Nymphadora Tonks.”

“I remember her.” Minerva murmured.

“It looked like she was caught by greyback.” Kingsley shook his head. “Perhaps a blessing she died.”

“Never say that!” Moody snapped. Shacklebolt flinched, then nodded,

“We found Potter in the wreckage and Malfoy a few yards away.” Shacklebolt continued. “It looks like he got out of the wreckage but someone cursed him and…” He shook his head sadly.

Molly Weasley was sobbing, her husband trying to comfort her. The rest of the order was locked in silent grief, avoiding one another’s gazes as eye grew red.

“They went down fighting though.” Kingsleys deep voice, usually so calming, now sounded funereal. “Did better than us really. Found Cramore stunned in the forest, Kirrimson was dead nearby. We pulled what was left of Greyback and Malf… Lucius Malfoy from the wreckage. Two were stunned behind the house Gibbons and Goyle, one other dead and burnt beyond recognition. We‘re working on identifying him.”

“Those kids leave three stunned and four dead.” Moody took a long pull from his hip flask. “And we walk straight into a trap and get sent home with our tails between our legs.”

“We‘re still alive.” McGonagall was shocked to find those words slipping from her lips.

“Wish it were the other way round.” Moody grimaced.

“What do we do now?” Dadelus said looking to Dumbledore.

Dumbledore said nothing. He was just sitting at his desk, staring into space.

“Dumbledore?”

Fawkes hopped off his perch and flapped down to land on the desk. The phoenix nuzzled up against Dumbledore‘s cheek, trilling softly. The old Headmaster slowly raised his head.

“We go on.” Dumbledore’s words were hollow in the silent room. “We go on.”

“Specifically?” An acrid voice said from the doorway. Snape was standing there, looking more than a little haggard.

“Severus why are you here?” Dumbledore asked angrily.

“I am here because the dark lord ordered me to be.” Snape strode forward. “Shall I remind you, lest the details have slipped your mind, that he believes I am his spy.”

“I had not forgotten that.” The headmaster said evenly.

“Good. Now specifically what are we going to do? Other than ‘go on‘.”

“A little respect Severus.” Arthur Weasley said from the other side of the room. “Harry Potter is dead and-”

“I am aware of that.” Snape cut in. “The tragedy of three young lives snuffed out is not lost on me. But what you all seem to have ignored is that they have given us a gift as they went. They struck the dark lords forces a heavy blow, their numbers and morale have suffered thanks to our champions and we should not let that sacrifice simply disappear. We need to use this time to marshal our forces. We can bring the ministry to heel, two respected aurors saw the death eaters and five people are dead. Including the boy who lived. They cannot ignore that. We can either accept that Harry is gone and use his death as a catalyst to cement the ministry behind us or we can sit here and wallow in guilt.”

Snape’s mouth snapped shut and he stared down the headmaster who returned the gaze evenly.

“We cannot use Harry‘s death as a political bargaining chip.” Albus said, a veiled threat in his words. “It is sick to even suggest it.”

“Oh please,” Snape scoffed. “It’s is simply a means to an end. Harry himself would have been for it.”

Probably true, Minerva admitted to herself. How did she feel about this plan? It chilled her to her very core to think about it. Making Harry a martyr was an insult to him. But if it ensured that the ministry was working with them instead of at cross purposes like in the last war…

“I will not allow Harry’s sacrifice to be used this way.”

“It is not yours to allow.” Snape shook his head. “The prophet will get the story sooner or later. Do you think Fudge, beset as he is by scandals, will not try to use it to his advantage? All we can do is do so first.”

Dumbledore’s mouth snapped shut. Minerva, and everyone else in the room, could see that he’d been backed into a corner.

“It is wrong.” Dumbledore murmured softly. “We will regret doing this.”

“Not as much as if we don’t do it.”

“I know.” Albus was once again staring into space, seemingly lost in his own mind. “We go to the ministry. Molly, Arthur if you would take on the task of informing Harry‘s friends?”

“Of course Albus.” Arthur nodded.

“Minerva, Kingsley, Alastor and Severus, we should depart for the ministry. The rest of you, go home. I am sure that we will meet again soon.” As the order began to move the door burst open to reveal Bartemius Crouch.

“Is it true?” The unusually emotional man asked. “They are saying that Potter and the Malfoy boy are dead and that the dark lord has returned. Is it true?”

“It is.” Dumbledore said simply.

“Then… what you have been saying all year…” Crouch bowed his head. “If only we had listened.”

“It would have made little difference.”

“But it would have made some.” Crouch looked up. “Are you going to the ministry?”

“We are.”

“Then so am I.”
*


Harry felt like he was being passed through an intestine. The squeezing-pressing-rippling from every side hit every bruised and battered part of his body. Which right now was most of him. He dropped onto carpet and felt someone lift him up and lay him gingerly on a couch. Tonks’ couch he assumed, mostly because it was pink.

“So that was apparation was it?” Harry coughed painfully. “It felt a bit like being born.”

“Don‘t try to talk Harry.” Tonks began running her wand up and down his arms. She grimaced as she saw damage under his skin. “You‘re too badly injured Harry. You need St Mungos.”

“Just get me walking. We don‘t have time for more anyway.” Harry twitched with major nervous energy, or minor brain damage. “We have to get going.”

“Harry a building fell on you, don‘t be a complete idiot.” Malfoy said, pushing a glass of water into Harry’s charred hand. “Besides, you already died once today.”

“We‘ve got no time to waste.” Harry shook his head. “They‘re probably already moving. We should- OW!”

“Sorry!” Tonks shrugged and grinned impishly. “Had to pop your shoulder back in. Get ready for the ribs…”

Harry bit down hard as his ribs snapped back into shape one by one. He felt his hand shaking and water splashing everywhere. He just lay back and tried not to scream as various parts of his body were patched up. He looked away, desperate for something to distract him. His eyes found Draco, hovering nearby. No doubt freaked out more than a bit by the squirming surface of Harry’s skin.

“How are you holding out?” Harry asked through gritted teeth.

“How am I-”

“I mean about your father.” Harry closed his eyes as the skin on his right leg began to bubble. “How are you dealing?”

“I‘m…” Malfoy sighed. “I‘m trying not to think about it. I… I killed my own father.”

“You had to.” Harry winced. “He woulda killed you.”

“No. He wouldn‘t.” Malfoy sounded grim. Harry opened his eyes. His friend was crouched on the floor with his knees drawn up to his chin. “He was trying to save me from the dark lord. He was going to hide me. Even though he would have risked his place in the dark lord‘s circle, maybe even his life, to do it. He was trying to look after me.”

“That’s bollocks, he used an unforgivable on you.” Tonks said from near Harry’s feet. “Did you hear him? ‘Family line‘ and all that. He wasn‘t trying to save you. He was just looking after the family name.” Tonks broke off then popped up, looking contrite. “Sorry, didn’t mean it like that.”

“It‘s alright.” Draco said quietly. He had drawn his knees up closer to his chest.

“Draco come on.” Harry reached out with his newly repaired arm and tipped Malfoy’s head back up. “This is a completely screwed up situation. You want to hide. Unfortunately I need to save the world again and I need your help. So you have thirty seconds to be emo in then we‘re back to business.”

“You‘re a bastard Harry.” Malfoy shook Harry’s hand away.

“I‘m not. I‘m just in a hurry. Alright that‘s enough.” Harry pushed off the couch and stood. His body… sort of worked. “We‘re going now.”

“You‘re still not better you idiot.” Tonks snapped at him. “You need to rest!”

“I‘ll rest when I‘m dead.”

“You are dead.” Malfoy pointed out acidly.

“Only temporarily” Harry drew out his stolen wand and grinned. “Now lets go break more ribs. Preferably not mine.”
*


The news had apparently already spread to the wizarding public and the foyer of the ministry was packed with people. As the order appeared in a fireplace it set off a ripple of people that ended with a splash as someone tripped into the fountain. The sound was barely audible over the screaming riotous noise coming from the crowd.

Riotous… that was the word wasn’t it. Snape thought as Dumbledore prestiged his way through the crowd. It was nearing a riot, when you pushed this many people together, gave them a reason to hate, to rage… this could become violent.

A glance at the other order members showed him that they realized it too. They had instinctively pulled together defensively. Moody’s eye was virtually a blur, searching out threats.

Snape even saw that some of the crowd had conjured placards or simply burnt their complaints into the air. Cornelius Fudge’s name figured prominently, and not in a flattering light.

The order reached the elevators, a ring of aurors looking nervous around them. It took Snape a moment to realize that they were actually having to hold a shield in place to keep the crowd back. Dumbledore stepped forward and gestured to be let through. The head auror, shook his head.

“Can‘t let anyone through.” The grey haired man shouted over the noise of the crowd. “Orders of the Wizengamot.”

“Of which I am head.” Dumbledore seemed to have no difficulty making herself heard. “I do not think it was in the spirit of their orders to keep myself, two decorated aurors, a department head and two Hogwarts teachers from entering.”

“I cannot allow anyone to enter.”

“Oh… That‘s unfortunate.” Dumbledore drew his wand and tapped the ward lightly. It dissolved. The order pushed forward ahead of the crush of people and got into the lift. Kingsley jammed the grating shut just before the push crashed against it. One of the aurors was thrust into the metal bars. Snape saw him mouth ‘help me’ as the lift slid up and away.

Snape tried to breath evenly. The urge to mash the button for level nine was surprisingly strong. Snape felt a little groan as the lift rose further away from the department of mysteries and up towards the offices of the minister.

“Do we actually have some sort of plan?” Snape said over the clanking machine.

“We will have to gauge the situation.” Dumbledore said after an uncomfortable pause.

Oh how I wish I was on level nine.

“I think we can safely assume what that the situation is.” Snape saw level four scrape past, office workers stared into the passing lift. The hope in their eyes as they saw the headmaster was palatable. “The Wizengamot will have heard that crowd out there and be looking to save their own skins. They will no doubt be politely throwing Fudge to the wolves. And why not? He‘s had it coming all year.”

“Instability is hardly what we need right now.” Minerva commented.

“And you think Fudge is what we need?”

“Fudge has let Rome burn.” Crouch said with dark anger. “We cannot allow him to remain in office.”

“You are not in the order.” Snape snapped at him.

“And you are not in the Wizengamot.” He retorted.

“But I am.” Dumbledore said quietly.

“So what do you purport we do?” Snape eyed the brass needle of the lift as it clicked towards one.

“If Fudge is prepared to admit what has happened we should try to avoid a the shock of a new minister.” Dumbledore had his eyes closed, he looked tired. “If not… we shall see…”

The lift clicked up in silence. Dumbledore’s lips were moving soundlessly, twitchingly.

“Would you be minister?” Shacklebolt voiced the silent question.

Click… click…

“… too many mistakes. All wrong…” Dumbledore muttered under his breath. He seemed to be swaying with the movement of the lift. His eyes were still tight shut. “I should never…” Dumbledore trailed off, leaning against the metal of the wall.

The others in the lift shared shocked glances. Crouch had his hands to his face in shock and Moody, for once, had both eyes fixed on one place. Their leader, apparently broken down. The lift jerked to a stop and a little bell dinged. No one moved.

Snape bent down in front of the headmaster, putting their faces level.

“We‘re here Albus.” He said sharply. The old mans eyes flickered open.
*


“Harry‘s… dead?” Hermione shook her head. “No…”

“The aurors said it was quick.” Mrs Weasley was sat across the table from them in an unused classroom. “He didn’t suffer.”

“Liar.” Ginny hissed with surprising anger.

“Ginny! I know you‘re an-”

“Any way Harry would go down wouldn‘t be quick.” Neville agreed.

“What really happened?” Padma pressed.

“He…” Molly Weasley looked down, her hands silently running up and down the edge of her robe. When she began speaking again it was softly. “He was buried under a farmhouse. He fought off seven of them and left them dead or stunned. He went down like a hero. His parents would have… would have been so…”

“Angry.” Padma broke in, grinding her teeth. “Angry that Draco sold him out like that.”

“Don’t you dare say such things!” Mrs Weasley’s head jerked up and she shouted. Hermione could see her eyes red with tears. “The Malfoy boy died too. It looked like they escaped together. Who knows how many of those seven were him!”

Hmm…. Hermione felt a light come on in her head. But if they didn’t know…

“He crawled out of the wreckage. Probably looking for help!”

Maybe…

“And someone cursed him for it!”

Who? And why didn’t they-

“I…” Padma stepped back. “I… I didn‘t know.”

“We‘ll you shouldn’t have judged.” Molly took out a handkerchief and patted her eyes. “They took their bodies to St Mungo‘s. You can visit if you want. I know how-”

“Wait… Um Mrs Weasley.” Hermione raised her hand un instinct before realizing that it looked stupid. “What do you mean looked like?”

“What?”

“You said it looked like they escaped together.”

“Well no one saw them obviously. The aurors only got there later.”

“Who killed them?” She pressed hurriedly.

“Miss Granger that macabre tal-”

“Please!” Hermione pleaded. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Padma sit bolt upright. She’d got it too.

“We don‘t know.” Molly Weasley was obviously very flustered. “They had obviously left by that time.”

“Without taking their injured with them?”

“Well…” Mrs Weasley went silent as she searched for the answer. “Maybe they were scared off.”

“Herm…” George said excitedly. “You‘re not thinking that Harry-”

“Well doesn’t it sound just like him?” Hermione said with a broad grin.

“What are you lot talking about?” Ron asked, confused. Hermione ignored him

“Mrs Weasley, where is everything happening.” On seeing the older woman’s confused expression she elaborated. “Where is the… the focal point of all the stuff going on now.”

“Well the ministry but-”

“Then that‘s where we need to be.”
*


Dumbledore nodded and stepped slowly out of the lift. Took a deep breath and seemed to steady himself.

“Albus if you are not up to this-”

“I am fine Severus.”

Snape let the old wizard go ahead. He was pushed aside a moment later as Crouch pushed past, a look of utter determination on his face. Snape and the other three remaining order members shared a worried glance.

“Well come on then.” Minerva broke the silence and strode forward. Snape followed her out of the lift and into the long gallery, the long walk to the office of the minister of magic.

One side was open bay windows (not real ones of course) filling the rouge-carpeted hall with blazing sunlight. On the other side was a procession of life sized portraits, one for each past minister of magic. A walk through history from the very first minister of magic Janakarah the sorcerer to the latest in the wrinkled figure of minister Bagnold. Corpulent and useless most of them, the few with any skill had used it for there own benefit. When Fudge stepped down or died the corridor would be extended and one more painting would be hung.

Snape had never been here before. But anyone who actually paid attention in history of magic knew about the famous hall.

There was a sinister edge to the air and Snape had trouble placing it until they passed the 1500s and the portrait of Fenchurch the sickly. There was the sound of raised voices coming from the far end of the corridor, the end with the minister’s office.

“Hyenas.” Snape muttered. “Can hear them feasting.”

“I thought they were wolves.” Moody muttered from behind him.

“Of course,” Snape sneered. “My changing metaphor is the most important thing happening here.”

“Harry trusted you.” Moody said quietly. Snape started and almost missed a step. That had come out of the blue.

“Your point?” Snape asked, to buy time.

“Why?”

“Why do you need to know?”

“Answer the bloody question.”

“His reasons were his own and it seems rather academic at this point.” Snape spat back.

“I should‘ave looked out for him better.” Moody shook his head. “He saved my life.”

“The past is meaningless.” Snape held his head up and took a deep breath. “Regrets are natural, and only right given the circumstances. Allowing them to paralyze us however is not. That is the worst thing we could do.”

“Who are you talking about?” Moody asked shrewdly. “You?… Me?… someone else here?…”

“All of us.” Snape replied acidly, then sighed. “Wizards spend too much time living in the past.”

“That doesn’t sound like something you‘d say.” Moody grunted in surprise.

“It‘s not.” Snape looked over at the grizzled auror. “It was something Harry said. And it‘s the answer to your next question.”

“Which is?”

“Why did I trust him.” Snape took another breath. He felt a lump climbing his throat and squashed it down. “We‘re here.”

The order came to a stop before the heavy door. The small secretarial desk beside it was empty, the usual auror guards were gone too. With all the yelling it sounded like a quidditch match was being held on the other side of the door. One where both sides were loosing.

“We shall see what they‘re saying.” Dumbledore waved one hand and the studded doors began to groan inwards. As the order came into view the yelling subsided into silence. Snape could see what looked like the entire c crowded around the mahogany desk in the center of the room. A beleaguered looking Fudge had frozen with his hands out in front of him. Caught in mid excuse. The Wizengamot made a path them as Dumbeldore walked slowly forward towards the ministers desk. The Headmaster cleared his throat. “Cornelius, you must know-”

“You are a disgrace!” All eyes turned to Crouch as he interrupted the old wizard, his mustache quivering as he shook with rage. “You are a disgrace Cornelius! How dare you sit up here while Voldemort rises?”

“But Barty I-”

“SILENCE!” Flecks of spit flew from Crouch’s mouth. “The boy who lived is dead! The heir of a prominent wizard family is dead! One of our own aurors is dead! The champion of Beauxbattons is dead! Three innocent lives lost and you sit here desperately trying to preserve your own skin. How dare you!?”

“There was nothing I could do!”

“If you had listened to Dumbledore we could have stopped this.” Crouch smashed his fist down onto the desk. “Instead you were embezzling!”

“I never-”

“Whoring!”

“Accusations-”

“And securing a cushy job for your cousin!”

“Rupert is qualified for-”

“SHUT UP!” Fudge flinched back from the onslaught of Barty Crouch. “I call an immediate meeting of the Wizengamot!”

“Why?” Fudge spluttered.

“I call a vote of no confidence.” The room gasped at Crouch’s words. “I call for the immediate removal of Minister Cornelius Fudge!”
*


“How much longer Harry?” Malfoy hissed down the dark stone steps of the cellar.

“I don’t know Dracs why don’t you keep interrupting so‘s I don’t feel lonely.” Harry’s sarky voice filtered up from the darkness. Still with the distinct edge of weakness and pain. Draco looked over at Tonks who was guarding the door from the other side. She gave a harried shrug.

Malfoy tried to imagine what this was like for her, caught up in Harry’s plan like a leaf on the wind. Not unlike him really. Harry tended to sweep people along. But you couldn’t say no really, not when you saw what he himself was going through. Draco could see him down there now, propped up against a wall breaking down layer after layer of wards on the door beyond. The door that was banded with iron, smelt like a cesspool and that had made Tonks curse like a sailor when Harry lit it up with a revealo.

“Am I really your cousin?” Tonks whispered across the doorway.

“If your mother was Andromeda Black.” Malfoy hissed back, still watching his side of the corridor.

“Yeah… wow.” Tonks sounded distant. “I mean I knew you existed my mum told me.”

“My mother didn‘t. I found an old version of the family tree that still had Andromeda on it.” Malfoy was one of the few people who knew why the main family tree tapestry was so fancifully decorated. Every dragon, swan and oak tree covered the name of someone who had proved undesirable to the family. Andromeda Tonks was a vase of tulips. “I found out the rest from stories at school.”

“Nothing good I hope.”

“Oh please,” Malfoy rolled his eyes. “From what I hear your mischief was pedestrian at best.”

“What!”

“Me and Harry pranked each other worse over breakfast.”

“Those weren‘t pranks.” Harry called out from below. “That was guerilla warfare.”

“What’s a gorilla got to do with it?” Malfoy’s brow furrowed and he heard both Harry and Tonks stifle chuckles. “Well I always thought you weren’t human but…”

“Muggle thing.” Tonks grinned. “Sorry little cousin!”

“Little c-!” Malfoy snarled and turned back to watching his corridor. The seconds ticked on as Harry mumbled and cursed from down in the cellar.

Suddenly Malfoy’s wand jerked in his hand. He glanced over at Tonks and saw her looking down at hers too.

“The doors…” She whispered reaching into her pocket. She drew out a small mirror and snapped it open. Even Malfoy could see the dark hooded figures growing closer. “Death eaters. They‘re coming.”

“Harry!” Malfoy turned and hissed down. “They‘re coming! We need to hide!”

“Can‘t stop.” Harry’s horse voice breathed back. “Too many threads. If I let it loose I‘ll never get it back.”

“There‘s four of them!” Tonks hissed down, glancing down at the mirror. “We can’t take-”

“You know where they‘re heading.” Harry said quickly. “They’re coming here. Go back to that big corridor with the armors. Set a trap like in the woods.”

“Harry…”

“They won‘t be expecting us to be here. Any you can‘t catch just hit them when they‘re panicked.”

“There are five of-”

“I can’t leave!” Harry sounded panicked. “You’re an auror and a champion. You two need to do this.”

“He‘s right.” Tonks was nodding, her hair turning a stealthy black. “Let‘s go cuz.”

Malfoy glanced down the dark stairway as he followed the crouching girl. She was slipping professionally along the wall, her wand leading. Draco looked down at his own wand, it’s tip was shaking. He looked down further and saw that his hand was drenched in sweat.

“Useless.” He shook his head and gripped the wand tighter.
*


“Apposed to the removal of Cornelius Fudge, twenty.”

Courtroom ten held its breath.

“In favor of the removal of Cornelius Fudge. Twenty nine.” The dry court stenographer cleared his throat. “One abstained.”

Snape felt his fingernails unclench from the chair.

“It‘s done.”

“Is this good for us?” Kingsley asked softly. “It should be, but it feels like it was not.”

“It depends on what happens next.” Minerva was sitting ramrod straight. “Who steps in to fill his place.”

“I wonder if it does.” Snape murmured. “Something feels wrong.”

“He‘s right.” Moody growled under his breath. “Someone‘s toying with us.”

“Who?”

“If I knew that I wouldn‘t be sitting here.” Moody was twitching, his eye whirling in its socket.

“I nominate Garcia Grechkoff!” A grey haired witch in the purple robes of the Wizengamot shouted. A few wizards nodded thoughtfully, others booed.

“Who is he?” Snape hissed.

“Department of Magical Yransportation.” Moody rattled off. “Bought off by Nimbus.”

“If he’s open to bribes by companies he may be open to bribes by death eaters.” Minerva shook her head.

“But we don’t know.” Snape cursed.

“His grandmother is a muggleborn.” Shacklebolt rumbled. “Could keep him on our side.”

“But we don’t know.”

“I nominate Deloris Umbridge!” A portly man yelled to general hissing.

“Close to Fudge. They won‘t chose her.” Moody shook his head.

“And everyone knows that.” Snape snapped, glaring at the man who had yelled. “So why suggest her?” He tried to catch the man’s eyes but had no luck.

“I nominate Urstwise Innisting!”

“Champion of anti-werewolf legislation.” Moody sneered.

“This is madness.” Snape struck the arm of his chair.

“I nominate Barty Crouch!”

The room went silent for a moment, then erupted in cheers.
*


“It‘s set.” Tonks hissed. “Get back.”

Malfoy nodded and shot behind a pillar just as the heavy doors to the hall slammed open.

“Can’t believe we ‘ave to do this.” A throaty grumbling voice said loudly. “Takin‘ out his trash.”

“Let‘s just get on with it.” Another voice grumbled as they came nearer.

Draco could see their wand lights growing brighter. As soon as they crossed the line… Draco gripped his wand tightly. The trap would get all of them, why wouldn’t it? He tried to breath evenly, the footsteps drawing closer and closer…

Snap! A burst of light filled the corridor and Draco heard cries of pain.

“Stupefy!” Tonks voice cried out.

A flash of red pierced the blinding white. Draco jerked to life, he was supposed to be helping! He spun out from behind the pillar while going down on one knee. There was a vague dark shape in front of him, stumbling blindly forward.

“Stupefy!” The shape dropped.

“Stupefy!” Tonks yelled again. A thump told Draco that she had hit home.

Draco aimed blindly into the brightness and fired off a few more stunners. He kept firing even while the sunburst faded to a fizzle and finally popped into mist. The floor and walls were cracked and pitted with the spells and the walls right near the blast were still cracked and sizzling. The death eaters were sizzling too, the skin on their faces was cracked and blistered from the heat and one looked like his robes had actually caught fire. Probably the one that had tripped the trap.

Draco breathed a sigh of relief, it had worked. Tonks had insisted on using something nonfatal, against his wishes. He had even had to argue her up to this.

“Where‘s the fifth one?” Tonks’ voice cut into his head. She was still crouched by her pillar, remaining covered.

“What?” Draco scanned the bodies again. One… two… three… four… Oh merlin! “Are you sure there were five?” Draco asked desperately.

“Definitely.” Tonks stood and moved cautiously forward. “You sure there weren‘t any other paths down to the cellar.”

“I think… yes.” Draco swallowed. “Maybe the last one‘s watching the entrance?”

“Keep watch.” Tonks ordered him as she snapped open her little mirror, then flicked it closed again. “No.”

Draco glanced around, there was nowhere to hide at this point in the corridor other than the pillars they had used. That was why they had chosen it.

“You go back to Harry.” Tonks waved him back. “I‘ll sniff him out. He‘s got to be between here and the main entrance.”

“I’m coming with you.” Draco tried not to cringe at the quiver in his voice. “I can help you.”

“There might be another way around.” Tonks said hurriedly. “You should go look after Harry.”

“You‘re making excuses.” Draco challenged. “Harry can take care of himself.”

“You think I can‘t?”

“You think I can’t?” Draco challenged.

“Fine, we can both take care of ourselves.” Tonks hissed angrily. “Except Harry who should be on life support right now. Let me spell this out, kid, Go Protect Harry! If he dies for real everything we‘ve done is worthless!”

“I…” Draco bit back a nasty retort. She was right. “Fine you win. Have fun.” He turned and stalked back past the stunned wizards. He realized he was being stupid but he wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of admitting it.

He stopped near the end of the corridor. He was being stupid, worse he was being arrogant. He was being a Malfoy. He turned and called out.

“Ton…” Malfoy felt his throat freeze up. “…? …!” He tried to move, his feet felt like they were bolted to the floor. In fact… his whole body was paralyzed! Malfoy tried desperately to move… speak… cast a spell… anything that would attract attention.

The air in front of him rippled. A moment later a skein of nothingness was pulled aside and Malfoy saw the smirking face of Locusta Sanies. He put one blistered finger to his lips, glanced down the corridor at Tonks and grinned before sliding the nothingness back and disappearing.

No no no no no!

He watched as Tonks slid further away and his minds eye filled in the space in between with a stalking figure growing ever closer. He felt the wand still clutched in his hand, still giving out a wan light. Malfoy tried to scream a spell, if he could manage to do it wordlessly he could still warn her.

“Stupefy!” He yelled through gritted teeth and numbed lips. Nothing happened, he tried it again. Nothing.

Don’t do it that way, Malfoy tried to calm down. You didn’t do silent magic by forcing it through closed lips, you just thought it.

Stupefy.

Again.

Stupefy!

Malfoy was rocked on his immobile feet as a spray of red sparks spat weakly from the end of his wand.

“Kid?” Tonks voice carried from the other end of the hall. “You still there?”

Stupefy!

Another spray of sparks.

“I told you to go help Ha-” Malfoy saw her freeze as she took in his immobile state then whip her wand around and yell. “Harenosus!”

A tornado sprang out of her outstretched wand spraying sand out. For a moment it outlined a figure. Malfoy saw Tonks’ eyes spring wide open.

“Crucio!”

Tonks sprang to the side as the spell whistled past her and threw something dark and red back. It missed and hit the wall. The pink haired auror glanced around sharply, the figure had disappeared into nothingness again.

“Haren-”

“Avada Kedavra!” Draco felt his heart hit his throat but Tonks hit the floor and the spell sailed over her head.

“Augmenta!” She yelled and gripped her wand with both hands as a powerful jet of water shot out and struck Locusta, outlining him in shining droplets and toppling him over onto the floor.

“Stupefy!” Tonks yelled at the prone figure and the force behind the spell was so great that it slid him across the floor and out of his cloak.

She summoned his wand and walked over to him, checked that he really was stunned, before grabbing the cloak off the floor and running over to Draco.

“Finite!”

Draco felt his body sag and staggered before his muscles caught up with him and brought him back upright.

“Thank you.”

“Thanks for the warning.” Tonks shrugged.

“Aw… you two have been bonding.” A sarcasm drifted from behind Draco and he spun to see Harry leaning tiredly against the doorframe.

“Did you open it?” Tonks asked breathlessly.

“We got want we came here for.” Harry grinned and pushed himself upright, wincing in pain. “Now lets get to the ministry. I feel a denouement coming.”
*


“Children be reasonable.” Arthur Weasley was saying. “We need to get you back to Hogwarts.”

“He‘ll be here.” Hermione said definitely, standing up on the edge of the fountain to get a better look around. “He has to be.”

“I know you feel like he has to be alive.” The Weasley Patriarch shook his head. “But denying it isn‘t going to-”

“Harry‘s died before dad.” Ginny pointed out stretching up on tiptoes. “Twice.”

“You were even there one of the times Mr Weasley.” Neville said reasonably. “You both were.”

“They found his body.” Mrs Weasley grabbed Ginny and lifted her, kicking and struggling, off the fountain. “We are leaving now. We should never have come he-”

“The phone box!” Parvati yelled and pointed. Several other people in the crowd turned as the glass box descended and slid open revealing three figures inside.

“It‘s Dumbledore.” Hermione breathed, not wanting to give away that a little spark of hope had just been extinguished.

“Hey didn‘t he already come through ere?” Someone in the crowd muttered as the old wizard walked calmly towards the lift.
*


“Oh hell no!” The bruised auror yelled on seeing Tonks disguised as Dumbledore. “We only just got the ward back after the last time you broke through!”

“And I can do so again.” Tonks lied easily. “So you may as well let us through freely.”

“No bloody way!”

“Please,” Tonks smiled in a very Dumbledoreish way. “I do not wish to embarrass you in front of all these people.”

“Bit late for that.” The auror shook his head. “If you so much as raise your wand I‘m arresting you!”

“And taking me into custody?”

“Yes!”

“And before the Wizengamot?”

“Yes!”

“Well in that case-”

“Don’t get smart with me!” The auror shook his wand menacingly. “You‘re not getting past that easily!”

“Bugger.” Harry thought, scratching his fake beard. “This guys not an idiot, and if it actually comes to it we don’t have a chance of breaking through all of them.”

Harry looked surreptitiously over his shoulder looking for another way through… hang on!
*


“Um do you feel that?” Fred asked suddenly.

“Feel wha… oh!” Hermione dug her wand out of her pocket and felt it vibrating in her hand. “The mico… Did one of you do that?”

The marauders shook their heads, a moment later the wands went still. Hermione licked her lips and quietly whispered,

“Mico Harry.” For a moment nothing happened, then the wands started buzzing again. “He‘s here!”

“Where?” Ginny scrambled back on the fountain and looked around frantically. Hermione jumped up with her and a moment later all the marauders were perched on the lip of the water, scanning the crowd. “I don‘t see him.”

“He must be one of the ones with Dumbledore.” Padma hissed. “Too much of a coincidence otherwise.”

“Right.” Ron agreed. “Which one?”

“The short one.” Fred said knowingly.

“Does it matter?” Hermione said in exasperation. “He needs help! Look, the aurors aren‘t letting them through.”

“What does he thing we can do?” Neville scratched his head and added disbelievingly. “Does he want us to attack them?”

“No…” Padma said thoughtfully. “There‘s a better way…”

Hermione frowned, then suddenly it hit her.

“You mean-”

“Obviously.” Padma turned to the other marauders. “Disperse into the crowd and follow my lead.”

Hemione herself dropped down off the lip of the fountain and hurried past the shocked Weasley parents before pushing her way into the crowd saying ‘Excuse me!’ to everyone she bumped out of her way. Once she thought she was far enough away she stopped and waited for the signal. It didn’t take long.

“Let him through you idiots!” Padma’s voice cut clear across the crowd. “If Voldemort really is back then Dumbledore‘s our only chance!”

“She‘s right!” Hermione yelled. “Let Dumbledore through!”

“Let him through!” Someone else yelled from across the room, sounded like one of the twins.

“Let him through!” Another marauder took up the chant.

“Let him through!” Had that been a marauder?

“Le him through!” That definitely wasn’t.

Hermoine yelled her lungs out as the whole crowd took up the chant. The aurors were pushed back, looking more and more harassed. The chant grew in strength as people began to clap, then stamp.

“Let him through!” Hermione heard an old wizened lady near her chanting. Knocking her gnarled walking stick on the tiled floor.

From where she was she could see the head auror hold up his hands and yell something. A moment later a cheer went up as the shimmering curtain of the ward was pulled aside. Dumbledore and his two companions stepped through and entered the lift.

Hermione could have sworn one of them winked at her as the bars slid closed.
*


“You have some very smart friends Harry.”

“I know.” Harry grinned as Tonks canceled the illusion. “And in a few minutes we‘ll need to be just as smart. Or smarter.”

“And are we?”

“Course we are.” Harry grinned. “We‘re marauders.”

“We‘re what?” Tonks asked.

“Marauders.” Harry clapped her on the back. “It means we‘re unstoppable.”

“Invincible bastards.” Malfoy commented dryly.

“Exactly!” Harry nodded as the grating slid open. “Invincible cutthroat bastards! Now lets get to work.”
*


“The votes are in.” The dry court clerk said in a shaky voice. “The overwhelming majority have voted for Bartemius Crouch. So it is my proud duty to proclaim him the new minister for magi-”

The heavy courtroom door burst open with an explosion of light.

“I object!” A voice called out from the middle of the halo of brilliance.

“Who do you think you are!” Crouch sprung to his feet. “This is a meeting of the Wizengamot! Only those invited by members may-”

“Shut up!” The voice called.

“Who are you?” Someone called out.

Beside Snape Alastor Moody was staring open mouthed at the door. A moment later he threw his head back and laughed.

“Moody?” Snaoe questioned. “Who is that?”

“Who do you think?” The old auror croaked out. “That kid‘s brilliant I‘ll give him that.”

“That… kid?…” Snape turned back to the door, looking directly into the light. Slowly it faded and the courtroom was left with the tableau behind it. Three robed figures stood, one far taller than the others with his hood up, the others with theirs thrown back. The figure to the left was a young woman with strange pink hair, he remembered her a former student. Nymphadora Tonks. And the figure in the front, unmistakable, hands on hips, his hair thrown back to reveal the scar. His robes tattered and stained and his skin just this side of deathly, Harry potter stared down the Wizengamot with arrogance only he could conjure.

“Hi,” The boy grinned cheekily. “Am I late?”

“You!” An irate Fudge screamed from the corner. “You‘re dead!”

“Rumors, exaggerated, you know the drill.” Harry stepped into the courtroom, cracking his neck as he went.

“Trainee Tonks!” Shacklebolt had stood and crossed his arms angrily.

“Sorry sir.” Nymphadora shrugged. “I was only following orders.”

“Whose?”

“Mine.” Harry answered for her and spread his arms extravagantly. “I‘m the boy-who-lived. I outrank you.”

“Harry…” Crouch said from the podium, seemingly recovered. “This is clearly wonderful news. Seeing you alive brings tears t-”

“Crocodile tears no doubt.” Harry turned on the older man like lightning. “Should have known you were a reptile. Do it Tonks.”

“Bartemius Crouch.” The pink haired girl stepped forward. “I am arresting you for the murder of Fleur Delacour.”

“What!” The Wizengamot exploded. All except Crouch, who went very still.

“These accusations are boundless.” The new minister said flatly. “Obviously this is not Harry but an imposter taking his pl-”

“Interesting that you should mention imposters.” Harry interrupted. “Let me tell you all a little secret, everyone here. Dumbledore… yes that guy there, that Dumbledore… Has a magic map. Yes everyone, a special infallible map One that shows the names of everyone in Hogwarts, and where they are, all the time.”

The courtroom had gone silent, every eye was on Harry.

“The Headmaster assured me that it could not be tricked, and I believed him. But here’s the nasty bit, you all know that Alastor Moody was attacked a few weeks ago? Yes… good. I knew the perpetrator couldn‘t have left the grounds that fast, but Dumbledore assured me that no one was on the map. But he was, he was right there, in front of the hospital wing. There‘s no magical way to trick the map, but that doesn‘t mean there‘s not way to trick it. One person could impersonate another if they had the same name. Like Barty Crouch and… Barty Crouch… Jr.”

The room gasped, but Snape’s mind was already moving. They had to make sure Crouch couldn’t leave. They had to catch him. He shifted in his chair but felt a heavy arm grab his shoulder.

“Stay where you are.” Moody growled. “Potter‘s got it under control.”

“He can just apparate out!” Snape hissed hurriedly.

“No he can‘t.” Moody grinned. “Damn that boy‘s good.”

“These accusations are insane!” Crouch was yelling.

“They‘re brilliant.” Harry shook his head. “Got to give old snake face his props, it‘s pretty devious. I‘d bet anything that you‘re the source of all the rumors that have been attacking Fudge all year. De-stabling his position enough that you can swoop in and knock him off his perch. Of course you’d need something to prompt the changeover. Something dramatic, like the return of Voldemort. He was going to use his own rebirth as a catalyst to put his puppet on the throne. That was why he waited to reveal himself. He was waiting for the opportune moment.”

“You have no proof!”

“I do.” Harry raised his fingers and clicked. The third figure raised his shaking hands and pushed his hood back. Anyone who hadn’t already clicked on to what had happened gasped.

The gaunt and scarred face of Bartemius Crouch stared back, his left eye twitching in anger.

“We couldn‘t give him a wand.” Harry said in flat rage. “His mind‘s not all there anymore. Probably all the torture.”

“This is another imposter.” Crouch said haltingly. “My son is in azcab-”

“Give it up.” Harry barked a harsh laugh. “You knew you were rumbled the moment I got here. Even if you convince them I‘m a fake you‘ll have to kill this bloke-” Harry jabbed his thumb at the skeletal crouch. “- then you‘ll have no polyjuice. Then you‘ll be screwed. But it‘ll never come to that, because there are at least four people in this room who already believe me. And none of them are going to let you leave.” Harry drew his wand, holding it lightly in his hand.

Snape drew his as well and saw Minerva reach for hers too. Moody stayed still, a small grin on his face.

“Potter… Harry.” The Crouch on the podium licked his lips. “You are a very bright boy Harry. But you are dead.”

“Faking.”

“You will be dead.” The voice of Barty Crouch went ice cold. “You all will be. The dark lord has said he will destroy you, and so he will. I only pray he lets he watch.”

“I see the mask has fallen.” Harry seemed unperturbed by this development. “So lets try the next trick.” Harry raised his wandless hand.

“No more tricks!” Crouch flicked out his wand and spun…

Harry clicked his fingers…

“Stupefy!”

The burst of red light caught Crouch from behind and slammed him into the lectern. He slid to the floor and fell like a rag doll, splayed against the ground.

“Nice shot.” Harry complemented the empty air.

“Well,” Malfoy appeared out of nothing, throwing back an invisibility cloak. “I had a good distraction.”
*


“Harry you promised!” Tonks grabbed his arm and tried to drag him out of the antechamber. “I‘m taking you to St Mungos!”

“I said I‘d go when all my jobs were done.” Harry shook her off and turned back towards Dumbledore. “I‘m not finished.”

“What‘s left then? Someone else to unmask?” The trainee auror put her hands on her hips. “Better do it quick, you‘re running out of time.”

“I do my best work with internal bleeding.” Harry shrugged looked around. Moody and Shacklebolt had left, trying to keep parts of the ministry from totally collapsing after the loss of two ministers in a row. McGonnagall and Snape were still there, standing behind the Headmaster and Malfoy was standing by Harry‘s side. “I need one last answer.”

“Harry Miss Tonks is right.” Dumbledore smiled. “You need medical help soon or-”

“Why did he come after me?” Harry cut in, silencing the headmaster. “Why me now. Why me fourteen years ago. Why me?”

Dumbledore stayed silent, his fingers twitching and his eyes suddenly bereft of their usual sparkle.

“He said I was the ‘seal for his immortality‘.” Harry pressed. “What does that mean?”

“Harry you are sick right now.” Dumbledore held up a hand. “Trust me that I will tell you the truth in good time.”

“No!” Harry barked a laugh. “Trust you to tell me? That‘s likely! Tell me now you old lying bastard.”

“Mr Potter!” McGonagall stepped forward angrily but her sleeve was caught by Snape.

“Albus,” The potions master licked his lips. “Perhaps you should simply tell him.”

“Severus!” The Headmaster snapped angrily.

“Do you know?” Harry tuned to the Slytherin, ignoring the way his vision blurred when he moved. “Will you tell me?”

“Say nothing Severus!”

“He deserves to know.”

“I am still the head of the order.”

“Did the order just save you all from a death eater becoming minister of magic?” Harry yelled angrily. “No! That was ME! You just sat there like an idiot!”

“You will not speak to me this way.”

“I‘ll speak any way I damn well like you igno-”

“There was a prophecy.” Snape said softly. Strange how soft words can sometimes drown out yelling.

“A what?” Harry felt his mouth go dry.

“Severus don‘t.” The Headmaster shook his head. “You don‘t know what you‘re do-”

“It said something specific about you Harry.” Snape continued, ignoring Dumbledore. “The half I heard said, The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches. Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies.”

The small room grew deathly silent. Harry felt his brain trying to work over what he had just heard. It was failing.

“It doesn‘t have to be true.” Harry heard Malfoy say through a fog of twisting thoughts. “Not every prophecy comes true.”

“It doesn‘t even have to be Harry.” McGonagall said, shaking her head. “Mr Longbottom also fits those criteria.”

Harry shook his head, Neville? Could it be…

“I… it is not Mr Longbottom.” Dumbledore said haltingly. “The other half of the prophecy confirms it.”

Other half… Harry put his hand to his head. Everything was so fuzzy.

“What other half?” Draco demanded.

“I do not think-”

“Do you really want to have this argument again?” Draco shook his head angrily. “Just tell us.”

“It concluded with, And the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not. and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives.” Dumbledore was speaking quietly now, almost defeatedly. “The first half of the prophecy unmistakably refers to Harry.”

“And… and the other half?” Tonks gulped. “It means…”

Dumbledore just shook his head and looked to the floor.

“It means it is inevitable.” Snape whispered in shocked breathlessness. “Harry is the only one that can defeat him. It is inevitable. They have to fight, and one of them has to die.”

No… Harry felt his hands shaking as the words fell like slabs of granite in the silent room.

“But… but he’s only a child.” McGonagall shook her head, a little glisten of a tear in the corner of her eye. “We can‘t let it happen.”

Harry tried to speak but the words caught in his throat.

“He doesn‘t have to do anything!” Draco slashed the air with his hand. “Not all prophecies come true!”

Harry raised his hand to his mouth… why couldn’t he speak.

“Not all of them begin.” Dumbledore said, with painful hesitance. “But once they do they almost always run their course.”

“Almost always!” Draco yelled. “You want him to face the dark lord on an almost!”

Should ask Pythea. The little seer floated into Harry’s mind but dissolved in the fog. His head hurt. His ear was wet. What was this…

“If there is a chance he can kill him.” Snape said, his head down like he was ashamed. “If it is our best chance…”

Blood…

“You as well!” Draco turned on his head of house, who looked away.

“You can‘t use him like that.” Tonks stepped up beside her cousin.

Draco… Harry tried to croak, but the world was spinning. He reached out a shaky hand towards the boys back. He fell short, there were too many hands and too many backs.

“Harry?” Dumbledore noticed his reaching and stepped forward.

“I… I…” Harry swayed, his legs too weak. He wet his lips and tried again. “Thirsty…”

The faces before him disappeared downwards and he felt the floor hit him everywhere before he blacked out.
*


Harry was dimly aware of the hospital room. The healers standing around saying things he wouldn’t have understood at the best of times. Snape was there for a while, then gone, then there, then gone, fading in and out. Draco was definitely there, a white bandage on his arm, ignoring it, standing by Harry’s bedside. Was Dumbledore there? He could hear his voice, see his eyes from behind silver light. The light was falling, hitting his eyes.

Where was he?

He was… home.

Privet drive?

Hogwarts?

Godrics… Hollow…

He was standing outside the cottage. He was right there, it was all there. But he had never been here, at least since he was too young to remember.

He had to get out. He wasn’t supposed to be here. It felt wrong. It was under his skin. Falling off like snowflakes, showing the shadows underneath. Had to get away!

Harry ran away from it, as fast as he could. The shadows were chasing him, wanting to get into him, in his head. He ran until he could hide behind a tree. The apples had grown now. Hundreds. Green. Right over his head.

He could hide here.

It was much better here.

Everything but this was shadow.
*


“I was wondering when you‘d show up.” Natalie Zhao pushed the door fully open and let him in. She pushed it shut behind him and stood there, arms folded, waiting for him to speak.

“I‘m not dead.” Was the first thing that came to Snape.

“I gathered that.” The unspeakable didn’t move. “Don‘t you have an explanation?”

“An explanation?”

“For your message. Your patronus.” Her even voice edged to anger. “You somehow sent a message by patronus. Which I’ve never seen. You said you loved me. Which you‘ve never said. Then you said you could die. Which I know you would not exaggerate. You said you were about to do something dangerous. Then the ministry explodes, people are saying Voldemort has returned. Saying that Harry Potter is dead. Fudge is removed. Crouch is elected. Crouch is removed, by Harry Potter. Crouch is arrested. The ministry is in turmoil, they only got the crowds to go home an hour ago. They only sent the unspeakables home because our department can’t do anything at this point. No one knows what‘s going on. The Wizard Wireless just keeps playing the same recordings of what happened in courtroom ten. Everything is broken down. So pick something Severus. Anything. Give me an explanation for anything that‘s happened over the past day or I swear I‘ll hex you into oblivion.”

Snape answered the only way he could. He stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Natalie, resting his head on her shoulder. He pulled her as tight as he could, reminding himself for a moment that at least one part of the world wasn’t broken. Breathing her in, being where he’d wanted to be since the beginning of this sorry mess. At least this battle was over.

“This isn‘t an explanation.” Her voice came from somewhere near his breastbone, muffled by his robes. But her arms were around him, gripping him at least as hard as he was her.

“I know. Just a moment more.” Snape pulled himself together and stepped back, releasing her and looking down into her perfect eyes. “Here, this should tell you what you need.”

He let his mind drift, letting every mental defense fall. The intrusion was soft, light and swift. The memories she needed were right on the surface.

“Oh my god.” She put her hand to her mouth. “It‘s all… true?”

“All of it.” Snape nodded.

“The prophecy… even that?”

“Yes.”

“That poor boy.” She shook her head. “How can he do this? Does he even have a chance?”

“He must have at least a chance.” Snape sighed. “The prophecy says he has the power to defeat the dark lord. If there was no chance at all it could not say that. However small it is, he has a chance.”

“What can we do?” She had gone from disbelief to iron conviction in a moment. “How can we save him?”

“I need to…” Snape licked his lips. This was harder than anything else. “I cannot see you anymore.”

Natalie bit her lip and looked at him calculatingly.

“It‘s for some stupid noble reason isn‘t it?”

“I know what I have to do. How I can best help the order… and help Harry.” Snape closed his eyes, it was easier if he didn’t look at her. “I have to be a spy again.”

“In the death eaters.” It wasn’t a question.

“While I am there I cannot reveal any indication that I am anything other than just like them.” Snape explained. “I cannot ever slip. Even the slightest hint… I couldn’t do it… I am not a good enough actor to hide you. Hide the change you’ve made in me. I have to end it. I‘m so sorry Natalie.”

“You can‘t afford any distractions.”

“Yes.”

“And I‘m a distraction.”

“Yes.”

“Love is a distraction.”

“Yes.” Snape breathed, his closed lids the only thing keeping back tears. He felt breath on his face, she was moving closer. A moment later he felt her wet-silk lips on his.

“No…” He murmured, but she had captured him. Her hands behind his head, her lips on his. Intoxicating, making everything he had said fly out of his mind.

He had to stop.

He couldn’t.

He lost himself in the kiss, breathing in every moment of it. He couldn‘t stop, his brain was full of her. If his eyes had been open even the weakest wizard would have been able to read his every thought. He was open… euphoric… free…

As she pulled back he opened his eyes. He had thought the spell would be broken then, that the feeling would go away. But it wasn’t going, it only felt stronger.

“Firstly…” Natalie held a finger up to his wet lips. “Stop being noble, it doesn’t suit you. Secondly… Who do I talk to about joining this order?”
*


“Why can‘t we see him?” Parvarti moaned.

“Because he‘s in a closed ward.” Mr Weasley said calmingly. “You couldn‘t see him even if we went to St Mungos.”

“We can be there for him.” Neville said quietly.

“You wouldn‘t be able to speak to him or even be in the same room.”

“He‘d know we were there.”

“No he wouldn‘t. He‘s unconscious.” Mr Weasley shook his head. “You kids need to go back to Hogwarts. You‘ve already been out of school for too long.”

“School!” Fred threw his hands up. “Who cares about school! Harry‘s in hospital and You-know-who is back!”

“All the more reason for you to be back at Hogwarts.” Mrs Weasley pushed the marauders towards one of the fireplaces. “It‘s the safest place.”

Ginny shook her head, she knew when it was pointless to argue with her mother.

“Play the little sister card.” She heard someone whisper in her ear. She looked back in time to see Padma wink at her. “One of us should be there, and it‘ll be easier to leave the burrow.”

Ginny grinned, then put on her best scared-six-year-old face.

“Mummy, I‘m scared.” Her mother turned to her. “Do I have to go back to Hogwarts?”

“Your father told you. You can’t see-”

“No, that‘s not what I meant.” Ginny shook her head. “Can I come hone tonight?” Her mother’s face softened instantly.

“Of course dear. I‘ll clear it with the teachers.” Ginny found herself enveloped in a hug. “There‘s no need to be scared.”

“I know.” Ginny felt a little bad for manipulating her mother. And very good for not getting caught.

“I‘m also scared-” Ron began, before Fred elbowed him in the kidneys.
*


It was near midnight before Ginny could sneak down to the front room of the burrow. She slid out of the front door and broke into a run as soon as she was out of the garden. It took her only a few minutes to jog to the Lovegoods’ house. She stepped in (the door was never locked) and went straight to the fireplace. Mr Lovegood slept right at the top of their odd house and she could probably lie her way out of trouble even if she was caught.

“St Mungos.” She said clearly as she tossed the powder and stepped into the fire. After a rocking and spinning few moments she fell out into the waiting room.

At this time of day it should have been empty. It wasn’t, ten or so reporters were dotted around the room dictating into quick quotes quills or jotting notes down the old fashioned way. Ginny went straight to the stairs (the desk staff would no doubt question a child alone in the middle of the night) and ran up a few flights before stopping by a portrait of a helpful looking old man.

“Excuse me,” The old man perked up at the sound of her voice. “Do you know where the closed wards are?”

“Are you a reporter?” The old man asked suspiciously.

“Do I look like a reporter?”

“Hmm, you’re right a little young maybe.” The old man nodded. “You want the fourth floor. End of the hallway.”

“Thank you.” Ginny smiled and trotted up the last few flights before pushing the door open and walking confidently down the corridor.

Confidence was the key. I have to look like I’m meant to be here…

Or I could steal that nurses robe off the back of that chair.

Ginny scuttled over and quickly threw it over her shoulders. She pulled her hair down to hide her face and picked up a nearby clipboard with a piece of parchment stuck to it.

‘Confidence and a clipboard is a universal disguise’, Ginny chucked at the memory. Good advice Harry.

She lowered her head and pretended to be checking her notes as a healer walked past then quickly pushed open the door at the end of the hall and stepped in.

It was unlit, the patients were meant to be sleeping, but there was a little streetlight filtering in through the windows. Ginny moved from bed to bed quietly, they all seemed to be empty. They must have emptied the ward for Harry.

As she stepped closer to the second to last bed in the row she was that it was occupied. Harry… He looked pale and wan, and he twitched in his sleep. He looked awful. It was the light from the window, that was it. It was yellow and harsh, making him look sicker than he was. That had to be it.

Ginny stepped closer, trying to see what specifically was hurting him.

“Don’t move.”

The voice came out of nowhere and Ginny jumped back in surprise. A moment later she saw the shape lying on the next bed over. She had been so focused on Harry she hadn’t noticed. The shape sat up and she saw white blonde hair framing it’s face.

“Malfoy.” She was caught between anger and relief.

“W… Weasley?” The Slytherin moved into the light and Ginny could see that he had a bandaged arm. “What are you doing here?”

“I could ask you the same question.” Ginny tried to summon some confidence. And clutched her clipboard.

“Well this is a hospital.” Malfoy sneered. “And I‘m injured. Why do you think I‘m here? Your turn.”

“I‘m here to see Harry.” She lifted her chin. “I‘m his friend.”

“So you are..” Malfoy slid his feet to the floor and stepped over to stand on the other side of Harry’s bed. “Get behind the curtain. They can see you from the corridor.”

Ginny quickly stepped towards the wall, away from prying eyes. She wouldn’t thank him though. Not Malfoy.

“Is he gonna be ok?”

“He‘ll recover. They said there won’t be any lasting physical effects.” Malfoy snorted quietly. “Whatever that means. He‘ll have a few more scars to add to his collection.”

“So he‘ll be fine?” Ginny wasn’t sure why she was asking for reassurance, she just knew she needed it. “The healers can-”

“Fix almost everything.” Malfoy’s eyes drifted down to a small bandage on Harry’s wrist.

“What is it?”

“See for yourself.”

Ginny reached down and gingerly pulled the bandage down. Underneath was a gruesome tattoo, a skull with a snake coming out of its mouth.

“What is this?” Ginny ran her finger over the mark. It wasn’t even raised, it just felt like skin. A hand engulfed hers and lifted her fingers off.

“I wouldn‘t touch it if I were you.” Malfoy released her and pulled the bandage back up. “It‘s the dark mark. The dark lords mark. All his servants have it.”

“But Harry’s not his servant!”

“Keep your voice down.” Malfoy hissed angrily. “Do you want to get caught? Idiot.”

“Tell me what it means.” Ginny whispered softly. “Please.”

“The dark lord marked him because Harry wouldn‘t give in.” Malfoy shook his head. “Harry was tortured. For a long time, longer than anyone should have lasted. He just laughed. He was insane.”

“That‘s Harry.” Ginny let her hand fall into Harry’s.

“He just kept fighting. He was… he didn’t…” Malfoy bit his lip and looked away. “Eventually the dark lord just snapped, marked him. Maybe it was just the only way he could think of to actually cause Harry real pain.”

“But you got out?” Ginny asked. “You both escaped?”

“Barely. We got into the passages in the walls.” Malfoy added, his voice low and pained. “Managed to get out through a tunnel. We had to fight them in this… stupid muggle farmhouse. Harry fought them off. All of them, even Greyback. House fell down… he crawled out of the rubble.”

“Wow…”

“He kept going. Kept us going. Forced us, till he started bleeding from his ears.” Malfoy shook his head sadly. “Is it always this hard?”

“What?”

“Being his friend.”

“Oh…” Ginny chuckled wryly. “Sometimes…”

“Must be even harder being him."

They stood there in silence for a while, Harry twitching uncomfortably. Ginny leant down, idly wondering whether he could hear them.

“You’d better hope he can’t.” Malfoy answered out of the blue. “If he can hear he can feel, which means he‘s still in pain.”

“How did you…?”

“You‘re predictable.”

Ginny didn’t have the time to retort as the doors to the ward burst open. She quickly grabbed her clipboard and turned to hide her face. Footsteps approached the bed.

“Nurse,” The soft voice of Dumbledore spoke from behind her. “We need to get him to Hogwarts. Is he well enough to be moved?”

“I… um…”

“The healer said he shouldn‘t move until tomorrow.” Malfoy came to her rescue. “Said it could tear his wounds open again.”

“Really…” The Headmaster didn’t seem convinced. “Would you turn around please Miss Weasley.”

Erg… well marauder rules. If you’re caught, no apologies. Attack back.

“Hello Professor.” Ginny turned. “Do you want to explain why I could just walk into the ward where Harry was kept? I could’a been a death eater.”

“You think I left him unguarded?” Dumbledore chuckled and nodded towards a nearby bed. A moment later a cushion unfurled and arched it’s back, yawning widely. The cat hopped off the bed and unfolded into Professor McGonagall.

“Satisfied Miss Weasley?” The animagus arched an eyebrow.

“Did you know she was there?” Ginny muttered to Malfoy.

“Yes.”

“Why didn‘t you tell me?”

“This way was more funny.”

“Too right it was.” The voice was low and croaky, but unmistakably Harry. The two students and two teachers crowded round as Harry slowly opened his eyes. “Hi.”

“Hi yourself.” Ginny smiled. “Welcome back.”

“Didn‘t go anywhere.” Harry muttered. “I was unconscious.”

“I am glad you are awake Mr Potter.” Dumbledore said with false jollity. “But we must move you to Hogwarts.”

“Something‘s happened.” Harry stated flatly.

“We will talk about it once you are safely in Hogwarts.”

“No. We won’t.” Harry folded his arms. “We‘ll talk about it now.”

“Harry-”

“No more secrets.”

“No more secrets…” Dumbledore repeated quietly. Maybe it was her imagination, but Ginny thought she could hear a catch in his voice. “Very well then. Voldemort has made a move, we need to take you somewhere safer in case he tries to strike at you.”

“Made his move?” Harry frowned. “What‘s he done?”

“He had attacked Azkaban.” Dumbledore glanced back at the door of the ward . “He led the attack himself. The guards of the island simply let him pass. I think it is fair to assume they work for him now as well.”

“Azkaban is unguarded!” Malfoy’s eyes were wide and shocked. “But what about the other prisoners? They could also esca-”

“There are no other prisoners Mr Malfoy, and indeed no Azkaban.” The Headmaster spoke in clipped tones. “Perhaps I was not clear. Azkaban is no more. It was blasted away, down to the bedrock. Voldemort took his followers and any of the hundreds of other petty criminals that would willingly join him off the island and left the rest to take their chances in the sea.”

“How many?” Professor McGonnagal asked in hushed tones.

“We think at least twenty or thirty wizards joined him, not counting the ones that were already death eaters.” Dumbledore announced this as if it was the weekly Quidditch scores. “As for the others... They are still dredging bodies out of the north sea but it is safe to assume quite a few reached land safely, they were magical after all.”

“What about Crouch?” Harry said suddenly. “Tell me he wasn‘t transferred there yet.”

“I‘m sorry Harry.” Dumbledore bowed his head. “The aurors office didn‘t think there was any point delaying.”

“So he‘s free?”

“He is.”

“It was all for nothing.” A little choked laugh came from Harry’s throat. “It was all for nothing.”

“Harry…”

“Worthless…” Harry was staring at the ceiling. “For nothing.”

“We stopped him becoming minister.” Malfoy said sadly. “That‘s something I guess.”

“He killed Fleur.” Harry closed his eyes. “He tried to kill Moody. And now he‘s free. Should have killed him.”

“Harry!” McGonagall stepped forward angrily. “We cannot sink to their level. We are not murderers!”

“Maybe you‘re not. I killed at least four people yesterday.” Harry painfully slid his legs off the bed. “Maybe more… I forget. Does Greyback count as a person? Never mind, come on then, lets go.”

“I can levitate you-” Dumbledore began but then trailed off into silence as Harry stepped onto the cold hospital floor. Harry held out both arms wordlessly, Malfoy stepped under his left instantly. Ginny dropped her clipboard on the bed and took his right.

“I know you can levitate me. You‘re Dumbledore after all.” Harry smiled and stepped forward, leaning heavily on his friends.
*


There was a memorial service for Fleur the next day in front of the forest at Hogwarts before she was brought back to her parents in France. Harry didn’t say anything, he couldn’t trust himself to. Her killer was still out there because of the stupidity of the Ministry.

He’d get him. One day, he’d get him. Harry dug his fingernails hard into his palm.

“I‘ll get him for you.” Harry whispered, glancing up at Fleurs coffin. “I promise. I‘ll kill him.”

Harry watched as the Triwzard cup was brought out and placed next to the poor girl. She was the Triwizard champion, he and Malfoy had insisted on that. It was official and everything. Small comfort for her parents.

“You alright Harry?” Neville asked him quietly.

“No Neville.” Harry shook his head. “I‘m not alright, but this is basically a funeral. I‘m not meant to be right now. If I was alright I‘d wonder what was wrong with me.”

“It wasn‘t your fault.” Harry didn’t answer. The ‘fault’ conversation was too predictable, and unhelpful.

The ceremony ended and the students began filtering back to the castle. Harry didn’t join them, he couldn’t face them all. The whispers had already begun. Everyone knew Voldemort was back, most even knew that Azkaban was gone. They also knew that Harry had died, come back from the dead and invaded the ministry to unmask a death eater. Harry sighed, everyone thought he was some sort of hero. If they turned out to be right it would take a weight off his mind.

Harry reached the edge of the lake and looked out over it’s glassy surface. It still felt threatening and malignant, his fear pulling at him like vertigo. He ignored it, it was easier now, he had more pressing concerns.

“You sure you‘re ok?” Harry looked back, Neville had followed him. “You don‘t seem ok. I mean I don‘t-”

“What did your parents do Neville?” Harry said out of the blue.

“I… they…”

“You never told us.”

“They… they were aurors.”

“Ah… ” Harry nodded. “Probably fought death eaters… Voldemort… lots of times.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Neville shuffled his feet, staring at the floor. “Nan told me they were pretty good so probably.”

“And they‘re dead?”

“They‘re… well… they're in St... yes. Yes they‘re dead.” Neville swallowed. “A death eater called Bellatrix did it.”

“That‘s what I thought.” Harry nodded, still looking out over the lake. “I wonder if you‘d have done better… ”

“Harry you‘re scaring me a little. What‘s all this about?”

“There was prophecy Neville.” Harry watched the sun as it slowly set so as to avoid looking at his friend’s face. “Long story short it predicted the birth of the only person who could destroy Voldemort. It could have been either me or you, turned out to be me.” Harry lapsed into silence. Behind him he could hear Neville breathing in gasping gulps.

“You did hear me say it‘s not you?” Harry clarified. “You don‘t have to fight him.”

“But you do!”

“Apparently.” Harry tried to shrug, tried to look uncaring. Unfortunately it was so counter to how he was really feeling it was hard.

“Do you know when?”

“Nope.”

“Do you know how?”

“Nope.”

“Well…” Neville scratched his head. “What do you know?”

“I know I‘m gonna lose.” Harry said dryly. At Neville’s shocked expression he threw his hands up. “Well what do you expect! Look at me, I‘m a teenage wizard, a fourth year! He‘s the most dangerous wizard alive and I‘m barely making acceptable in defense against the dark arts.”

“Harry you know grades don’t matter.” Neville shrugged. “If they did then how come you‘ve survived this long?”

“I know that! But this is different!” Harry shook his head. “Up till now I‘ve got through by a combination of luck, lying, wit, brutality and stubbornness. Not to mention that I‘ve always had help. But this is different, it‘ll just be me, him and two wands. I can‘t beat him like that, don‘t even stand a chance.”

“You don‘t know it‘ll be like that.” Neville said reasonably.

“I know it will. Don‘t you see? This is where the whole thing‘s been headed. I‘m going to lose and I can‘t. I can‘t let myself lose.” Harry realized something and laughed wryly. “She was right… of course she was right.”

“Who was? About what?”

“I won‘t be able to visit her this summer.” Harry’s hand twitched to the cord around his neck. “I‘ll be busy. I‘ll be very busy.”
*


Draco hitched his legs up onto the windowsill and rearranged his robed behind him to be a bit more comfortable. When it got later he’d try to reach his room in the Slytherin dungeon. Right now his apparent defection made it impossible to get past his former friends without a violent response.

He shifted his shoulders and turned the page on the course book he was reading. For now he could ignore everything, just be a little nub of calm on the windowsill, reading in peace. But eventually he’d have to face his housemates, then in a few days he’d have to go home and face… nothing.

His hand moved to his pocket where the letter from his mother was. It hadn’t been angry, no expressions of undying hate. It had simply stated that she was moving back into the house she grew up in and that she would prefer if she never saw him again.

Draco had considered burning it, or tearing it up and laughing. That was what Harry would do. Draco just wanted to curl up in a corner and pretend it didn’t exist.

“Wotcher, kid!”

What the…? Malfoy looked down the corridor and saw Tonks standing just a little way off with her hands on her hips.

“Oh,” Malfoy turned back to his book. “What do you want?”

“Hello to you too.” Tonks shrugged and shoved his legs off the windowsill roughly so she could sit down.

“Hey! I was sitting there.”

“You were moping there.” Tonks corrected. “Anyway I was talking to my mum earlier.”

“Was she angry at you for dying?” Draco asked.

“A little.” Tonks said sarcastically. “She also said she had heard that her sister was moving back to her old home.”

Draco didn’t say anything.

“Is that why you‘re sitting out here?”

Silence.

“Or is it that you helped arrest-slash-kill several of the fathers of your old friends?”

“What do you think?” Malfoy answered acidly.

“I think I should show you a little something I found in my sixth year called the ‘room of requirements’.” Tonks stood and winked at him cheekily. “So you won‘t have to sleep on a windowsill.”

“The room of requirements? Is that a bedroom?”

“It can be a bedroom.” Tonks answered mysteriously. “By the way, did I ever thank you for saving my life?”

“It‘s fine. You probably saved me too.”

“Yeah, probably… ” Tonks nodded grinning. “Anyway my mum says that you should come over to dinner so we can thank you properly.”

“It‘s fine-”

“She always makes too much anyway.” Tonks went on. “You can come over a few times if you want. Every night even, over the summer.”

“You don‘t…” Draco felt his throat go a little dry. “You don‘t have to do this for… for…”

“For what? For family?” Tonks laid a hand on his shoulder. “Yeah, I do.”
________________________________________


Well... that was a long journey. Long and epic! Anyway... Hope you liked it. Leave a review, come on... it’s the end of the book. Go on.

Anyway, prepare for the next book. If you thought this one was a wild ride then the next one will blow your freekin MIND! Cannon can go hang itself, we‘re taking our own path from now on. Believe me when I say that everything is about to change. Prepare for darkness... prepare for action... prepare for everything you know to wither and die. Prepare for...
Harry Potter and the Changeling Child


________________________________________
0 comments
:: Comments have been disabled on this story ::