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Introduction:

harry potter
Haven't said this in a while so I should probably mention. I don't own Harry Potter. I'm not sure of the specific legal ramifications of a character called Harry Potter but not actually the same guy. But anyway, I don't own any of the stuff I'm not supposed to own. I may own the stuff I'm supposed to own but since I'm unlikely to publish it probably doesn't matter.
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It was a nice garden, the garden at Malfoy Manor. At one time the bushes were elegantly crafted topiary, a menagerie of fantastic creatures in fanciful poses, but they had been untended for a year and now they looked just like bushes. Just here or there you could see a shadow of a dragon, the wing of a swan. It was like looking at clouds. The grass had grown up too, long blades that got between your toes. It was half wild but then that was good. It was a wonderfully peaceful place.

So why oh why had they nailed two bloody great quidditch goals into it. Harry snorted, they were ruining the view with their stupid game.

"Come on Harry!" Ginny swooped down laughing. "There's a spare broom!"

"Right, the broom's the problem." Harry laughed back, waving his cane. "Not the fact that I'm disastrous in the air at the best of times and am currently down a limb."

"So you're just gonna stay down there on the grass like an old man?"

"Just keep it quiet you hooligans." Harry laughed as Ginny rose into the sky again. It would have been fun to go up and make a fool of himself, make them laugh when he fell off. But if he ever wanted to get rid of the walking stick he would have to let himself actually heal. If he burst his guts open nobody would laugh. Well... maybe the twins would.

Harry turned and stomped off across the grass, back towards the house. The sun was beating down like a hammer and Harry was sweating by the time he reached the wide veranda. He took a moment before climbing the stairs. Everybody knew he was recovering from his injuries but he didn't like to let them know how hard some things were for him. Better to just take a minute.

Harry stomped up the wooden stairs and dropped into a folding deckchair. The whole veranda was new wood, tacked onto the back of the ancient mansion. The marauders had conjured and constructed the thing the first day they got there, at Draco's urging. The young Slytherin took an almost pathological pleasure in slamming beams into the ancient Malfoy mansion. It was all they could do to stop him using fifteenth century daggers as nails.

The whole place had been transformed into a kind of marauder summer camp. All of them were there, at first they had just come during the day to hang out, then in dribs and drabs they had attached themselves to rooms and began staying overnight. Harry was loving it, he had a captive audience. And now that the marauders numbered twenty they were a good audience. Except when they did pointless things like play quidditch or do homework. But at other times they were brilliant.

"So," Harry turned to the deck chair beside him, containing his newest initiate. "Who's winning?"

"I can't tell." Pythea took a dainty sip from a glass of lemonade. "They seem to have released four different snitches so I don't know how to score."

"Four snitches?" Harry's eyebrows arched.

"Ginerva and Draco were left in charge of setting up."

"Probably just trying to outdo the twins." Harry shrugged. "How many bludgers were there?"

"Twelve I believe."

"Seemed like more." Harry glanced up at the game flowing above the vast grounds. Sixteen marauders were swooping and diving in the hot, dead, air. Like swallows. Harry envied them, not for the ability to fly, but for the relief from the heat that flying would bring. Harry brushed his sweat filled hair out of his face and fanned himself with his hand. He turned to the girl next to him. "How are you not sweating? It's like a warm day in Hades."

"I'm used to Greece Harry."

"You're used to a floaty castle in the sky." Harry leant back to soak in the rays. "I however need some shade." Harry drew his wand and floated a standing umbrella over. It shook a little as it settled into place. Harry frowned, his new wand wasn't his favourite. For one thing it wasn't an Ollivander wand.

His first wand had been taken from him by Voldemort at the end of his fourth year, it had never been recovered. His second lay broken in Godrics Hollow. Both had worked for him wonderfully and he had wanted something as good. The first day he had got out of hospital he had stomped down to the old wand-makers shop to buy a new wand. Unfortunately the old man had had other ideas.

"Out! Out! Wand-killer! Get out of my shop!"

"But I just want-"

"I heard what you did to Dumbledore's wand! Travesty to destroy such... such... Get out! get out! get out!"

Harry had been bundled from the shop by the scrawny old bastard. As he fell backwards out the door, his cane clattering on the cobbles, he had yelled.

"I did also defeat Voldemort you know!" But the door had been slammed shut in his face and he had gone back to the mansion empty handed. Given that he didn't want to go to long without a wand he had scrounged through the things taken from the captured death eaters. Eventually he had found one that worked. He never found out who it belonged to, didn't really matter to him. It was made of reassuringly tough oak and had a nice round handle. It was just sometimes a little... finicky. Finicky was the right word. He just had to get used to it.

"You could try another wand-maker."

"Are you sure you can't read minds anymore?" Harry smiled over at Pythea.

"You were staring at it."

"I was not." Harry holstered his wand again in his pocket. Out over the garden a cheer went up as one team or another scored-slash-fouled in a way that was apparently impressive. Harry chuckled, the children were playing. "Are you planning to get a wand ever?"

"I don't use one." Thea hovered her lemonade up above her hand by way or proof. "I had a different kind of teaching."

"Could you teach me?"

"Do you have a few spare years?"

"Ouch." Harry threw his hand to his chest in mock wounding. "I'm not that dumb."

"We'll see when the O.W.L. results come." Pythea glanced at the sky. "When do you think they will get here?"

"Oh eventually." Harry put his arms behind his head. "I'm in no hurry. No wait, scratch that. Once they come we don't have to listen to Hermione worrying anymore. They need to come now. Right now."

"They'll be here in about half an hour." Pythea said confidently. Harry didn't bother asking her how she knew, this was a seer he was talking to.

Harry stretched out in his chair and yawned. It was nice to have an actual holiday again, no worry about Voldemort, no quest to undertake. It was relaxing. Harry eased his injured leg into a more comfortable position. He needed relaxing. His leg and his stomach needed relaxing. His brain needed it too. Harry closed his eyes and sighed happily. Through his magic vision he could see Thea look over and smile fondly.

"Have you decided whether you'll go to Hogwarts yet?" Harry asked her.

"I don't know what I'd do there." Pythea tapped her finger against her glass. "I wouldn't be a student and I couldn't be a teacher."

"You could be a teaching assistant." Harry grinned. "Help Trewalny-"

"Don't even finish that sentence." Pythea shuddered. "That thought is too horrible to contemplate."

"But most of all you can be close to the order in case they need your arcane talents." Harry wheedled. "Your impressive arcane talents. Your amazing and unparalleled arcane talents."

"Wouldn't I be closer here?" Pythea raised an eyebrow quizzically. "Here in the order headquarters?"

"But what if the marauders needed your talents." Harry pleaded. "Your impressive, godlike talents."

"Harry..."

"And besides." Harry smiled warmly. "You never got a chance to be a kid. Take this chance, come to Hogwarts. Let the marauders show you how to have fun."

Pythea didn't say anything, but she smiled.

"That's a yes. You smiled so that's a yes."

"Harry..."

"It counts as a yes. You're stuck with it now."

"You..."

"Me."

"Stop it."

"Can't."

"And you call me a brat."

Harry chuckled and laid back in his seat. He must have fallen asleep because the next thing he knew was a owl was pecking at his face.

"Get. The. Hell. Off. Me." Harry groaned.

Peck, peck, peck.

"Oh fine." Harry woke and cracked his neck. The owl wasn't holding a letter. "Where are my bleedin results you stupid bird?"

"Here Harry." Thea was sitting comfortably, holding a folded scrap of paper in her hands.

"The owl gave it to you?"

"I'm good with animals." Thea glanced down at the piece of paper. "Don't you want to know your results?"

"Not particularly."

"No? We could actually have a situation where I go to Hogwarts and you don't."

"Has... has that happened?" Harry felt his heart drop.

"Ah so you actually do care." Pythea glanced at him slyly.

"Brat."

"You haven't failed." Pythea smiled. "You got four. Four O.W.Ls."

"Well that..." Harry nodded faintly. "That's not bad. That's not too bad. Considering." He reached over and picked the results out of her hand. "Charms O. Ok that works for me. Defence... E."

"How could you get an E in defense." Pythea shook her head at him. "You defeated Voldemort."

"Defeating dark lords doesn't have a written portion." Harry said indignantly.

"Did you see the other results?"

"Managed A's in astronomy and creatures." Harry shrugged. "Good enough to go back to Hogwarts."

Pythea opened her mouth to say something but didn't get the chance.

"The results! The results are here!"

Harry's ears were assaulted by Hermione's screams. Thea raised her hand to her ears and winced.

"Welcome to the marauders." Harry said, over the ringing in his ears.
*


The next day they did the only thing traditional after receiving Hogwarts letters. The customary, almost pilgramigical, trip to Diagon Alley.

"Wait why are you going?" Harry had asked Fred and George. "You've had your last year."

"We're going to go look at something." Fred had replied evasively.

"What?"

"Just... just something." Fred shrugged.

"This is about your joke shop isn't it." Harry guessed shrewdly.

"Maybe."

"What about you?" Harry turned to Joshua Split. "Why are you coming?"

"I'm bored." Was his succinct reply.

Harry shrugged. Fair enough. The Weasley parents were there as well of course. Harry knew that on some level they disapproved of their children being soldiers in a war on eternal darkness. Harry knew this, and could barely bring himself to care. The war was effectively over for now, they weren't soldiers for now. Not for a few years at least. Harry shrugged, he would have preferred if the marauders could go alone. Being parented after so long taking care of himself was galling. Ah well, with so many marauders they couldn't possibly keep tabs on all of them.

Harry shrugged and hoisted his cane. Ah well, time to do the back to school shop. How very normal.
*


Harry dropped into a seat in an ice-cream parlor. His left leg, and left arm were both killing him. He had never been more thankful that his bottomless bag absorbed the weight of the books he'd bought. If he'd had to carry them the traditional way he might well be dead. It wasn't even just the weight or the injury, it was the people. What had happened in the department of mysteries was known to every wizard in Britain and probably a good number outside as well. Harry didn't know which ones were worse, the ones that demanded an autograph like he was he was a bloody celebrity or the ones that shied away from him like he was a god. It was draining, physically and mentally. He needed a break.

"Are you alright Harry?" Ron asked.

"Everyone wants to stop for ice cream right?" Harry panted. "We're all stopping for ice cream. Not because I'm almost dead. Stopping for ice cream because we want to, not because I'm a bloody invalid."

"Um... yeah Harry." Padma nodded faintly. "Because we want to."

"Great!" Harry sat back. "Double scoop, coffee and chocolate please."

"Why do I have to get it?"

"I'm injured." Harry held up his cane and put on a hangdog expression. "War wounds."

"Make up your mind." Draco muttered and shook his head wryly as the marauders pushed tables together around the one Harry had claimed. Harry just sat back and grinned. The heat had beat down harshly all day but now it was evening and the air was pleasantly cool. Very peaceful. Harry wondered idly what he would do with a year of peace. Probably go mental. Possibly get arrested. Without his lofty goals to justify his lawlessness he was liable to end up expelled. He might have to rein himself in a bit. Just a bit. It was unfortunate that he had no idea how to do that.

"Coffee and chocolate." A cone was shoved into his hand by Padma.

"What? No waffle cone?"

"Don't push it limpy."

"Ouch." Harry chuckled as the marauders pulled up chairs around the table. Despite her sarcasm Padma pulled up the chair next to Harry. Thea sat down quietly on the other side. She was quiet with everyone but Harry still. For someone who had been one of the most powerful women in the world she was remarkably shy. Harry opened his mouth to ask her something when he felt a tug at his sleeve.

"Watch." Padma hissed quietly and cheekily. Harry's eyes followed her surreptitious gaze to the other side of the table. Ginny and Draco were sitting at the far other side. As he watched Ginny held her ice cream out to Draco, who bent to lick it and ended up with a spot on his nose. Ginny laughed louder than it was natural to laugh at something so cliché and wiped the spot off with a napkin. The napkin brushed down Draco's face just a moment longer than was necessary. With his magic eye Harry could even see Ginny's heartbeat quicken. Harry turned to Padma.

"And he still remains totally oblivious." Harry shook his head in disbelief. "Does he have some sort of empathic blind-spot?"

"Apparently." Padma snorted cynically. "I think Ginny's getting desperate. It's almost embarrassing. My darling sister has been lending her mascara. And creams."

"Interesting that you say creams in the same manner that others would say... oh I don't know. Skunk bile."

"If he's that oblivious he's not worth it. By the way, if you want to swap some of the creams for skunk bile I'm game." Padma grinned slyly.

"That would be really mean."

"She would attract attention though."

"We don't prank fellow marauders." Harry turned to the girl on his other side. "Maybe you can tell us. See anything in their future? Something small and squalling perhaps?"

"I'm not a fortune teller Harry." Pythea said coldly. It was only the faintest twinkle in her eye that told him she was kidding.

"Not even a little fortune?" Harry arched an eyebrow.

"What do you expect me to do Harry?" The little seer smiled. "Read tea leaves?"

"Would that work?"

"Of course not."

"Wait a minute!" Ron spun round from Pythea's other side. Harry saw the seer jump in surprise but cover it a moment later. Ron hadn't noticed. "Tea leaves don't predict the future?"

"No. However could they?"

"What about clouds? Tarot cards? Casting bones?"

"I'm sorry Ronald none of those will give you any insight into the future." Pythea answered calmly.

"Then what have I been doing for the past three years?"

"Making stuff up?" Harry suggested.

"Well yeah I knew that but... what did I get an O.W.L for?"

"You got an O.W.L for putting up with Trewalny for three years." Harry reached over and clapped Ron on the shoulder. "It's well deserved."

Pythea laughed lightly into her hand causing Harry to notice something.

"Hey, you haven't got any ice cream." Harry cocked his head. "Did you want something else? I think they've got coffee and tea and stuff."

"Harry it's alright." Pythea seemed to shift closer to him. "I just don't have any money that's all. I left Greece with nothing and I've been staying at the manor ever since you know..."

"You should have said something." Harry held out his cone. "Here. You'll like it, chocolate is one of the three safe U.K. flavors, coffee ice cream however is dangerously experimental."

Pythea chuckled as she daintily licked a drop off the side of his ice cream cone. Harry turned it to let her get at all of it. He heard a snigger behind him and looked over his shoulder to see Padma covering her mouth with her hand.

"What?" The sniggering continued. "What?"

"Nothing." Padma's eyes flickered to Draco and Ginny on the other side of the table then back to him.

"Wha... what are you suggesting that... no no that's... that's totally different." Harry protested, which only prompted a gale of laughter. "It's not the same thing... I mean she didn't.... whereas they... Shut up." Harry turned away from the sniggering marauder and tried to ignore her. He and Pythea finished off the cone by turns, and by the time they finished Harry was pleasantly cool.

It was a totally fun and peaceful scene. Harry should have known it wouldn't last.

"Having a pleasant day out Mr Potter?" A shadow fell across the table. "It was a beautiful day I felt."

"Hello James." Harry's eyes fixed on the old gentleman. Maybe it was his tone of voice but the marauders went still in a moment. They went from laughing happily to taught as a drawn bowstring in an instant. Hands hovered near wands. Harry waved to them. "Don't worry guys, he's not dangerous. He's not even really here. Again."

"A pity really." James turned his pale, lined face to the sky. "It looks like such a nice evening."

"Is it cold where you are?"

"I am not telling you where I am." James smiled. "But I do not blame you for fishing."

"I'm certainly curious as to who you are." Harry leant forwards. "Last time I followed your advice I was framed for murdering some death eaters."

"A regrettable event Mr Potter, but not my fault." James spoke dryly and precisely. "The information I gave you was entirely correct."

"Yes." Harry nodded towards the Baker twins, both (despite his words) looking ready to spring. "You told me that their father was targeted to be attacked so I don't think you work for Voldemort. But that doesn't mean you're on the side of good."

"Good is meaningless." James said definitely. His crisp Oxford enunciation making the words seem even colder.

"Now I know you're on the wrong side."

"Think whatever you wish Mr Potter, it doesn't particularly matter if you like me. Although obviously I would prefer if we were on amicable terms. Nevertheless you will listen to what I have to say." James waved a gloved hand at the bustling street. "You will listen or in just about ten minutes these people will all be dead."

"You'd better talk fast then." Harry's fingers were gripping the sides of his chair.

"Voldemort will attack here." Was the simple response from the elderly visage in front of him.

"Voldemort has just two death eaters and is supposed to be almost dead." Harry grated angrily. "How could he possibly mount an attack."

"Dear boy do you expect me to tell you everything?" James smiled faintly. "You would think that this would be enough. Just know that as soon as the moon rises about twenty werewolves and at least as many wizards will be attacking here. Whether you chose to believe me... is up to you." James disappeared where he stood, startling a passing family.

"Harry?" Ginny was speaking worriedly from across the table. "Do you believe him?"

"Yes." Harry's teeth grated together. "Sod the bastard but yes." Harry grabbed his cane and pushed himself to his wobbling feet. "Neville, get inside the shop and flue the aurors, and the order. Everybody else start spreading out and getting people into the fireplaces. Do not panic them. GO!"

"Right." Harry turned to the worried looking Pythea. "Can you fight if it comes to it?"

"I was never trained." Her voice sounded very small.

"Ok, don't take this the wrong way but if something happens you need to stay out of the way." Harry raised his hand to her shoulder. "Stay safe." Harry stepped back and waved the marauders to the left and right down the street. He himself painfully stepped onto the table and amplified his voice.

"Listen... ag... This is Harry Potter." A cheer went up from the crowd, some people began to scrabble for things for him to sign. "No no, Listen. We've received a tip that there might be something bad happening here soon. It's probably a false alarm, just some idiot who thinks he's funny, but I've talked to the aurors and they think we should evacuate anyway. Just proceed calmly into the nearest shop and flue back to your homes. No pushing, just please go home. Don't worry about your friends up and down the street, we have people warning them too."

Harry tried to keep a calm smiling face as he waved people into away, nodding with an almost banal normality. He heard clattering footsteps behind him.

"Harry!" Neville dashed up behind him.

"What did the aurors say?"

"I couldn't reach them, the flue's blocked." Neville panted. "I went through the back and tried the next shop. It's down too. I think they all are."

"What?" Harry spun to look at the shop he had been waving people into. As he turned a cry went up and seemed to ripple along the crowd. Harry could here the cries of 'it's not working, why isn't it working?'. He felt is heart drop. He spun and grabbed a man out of the crowd. The man looked down at him in shock but Harry spoke right over him. "Can you apparate?"

"Wha... what's that?"

"Try to apparate."

"Is there a problem?"

"Just try to bloody apparate!"

"I..." The man paused. "I can't. It's blocked or... or something."

Harry spun back to face Neville. The nervous marauder was gripping his wand hard. Harry amplified his voice harshly, twisting his wand until he could feel his vocal cords twanging.

"MARAUDERS! THIS IS REAL! GET EVERYBODY OUT INTO LONDON!"

Harry left Neville in charge and clattered back towards the leaky cauldron, his leg felt like it was on fire. The entry wall came into sight, closed. People were crowded up against it, clawing at the bricks like rats. Harry stopped, shocked.

"Harry!" Lucy Kingston ran up to him, the Baker twins trailing behind her. "We tried to get them out but the flues are down. When they found out the panicked. I'm... I'm sorry."

"Get out of the way." Harry ordered them, raising his wand towards the crowd. "EVERYBODY MOVE!"

The crowd turned towards his yelling voice, saw the raised wand and the look in his eyes, and parted like the red sea.

“Confringo!" Harry aimed the curse at the center of the wall and blasted a hole in the masonry. He shot again and the wall fell in, crumbling into rubble. Behind the wall a figure stepped forward, his face veiled by a rough cloth and the rest of him covered in deep green. That was what everybody saw. Magic eyes saw more.

"Get away from him!" Harry yelled, but he was too slow. The figure shot forward like a snake, his hand jerking into his clothing and coming out with a thick bladed dagger. In one smooth movement the man was amongst the crowd. The knife came forward and Harry saw a spray of blood. The knifeman spun and plunged the blade into the back of a woman who had turned to run then Harry was knocked to the side by pressing bodies as the crowd stampeded away.

"Let me through!" Harry yelled as he was buffeted madly. He could still see the knifeman in the cold blue of his magic sight. The man was spinning randomly through the crowd, opening veins and cutting throats like the flickering picture of liquid death. Harry tried to push his way towards him but he was thrown back. "Screw this! Galbinus digitus! Hammus Missus!"

The vines on the wall to his side expanded like a mad octopus, arching across the street. Harry had already cast a chain up to the green arch and jerked himself up over the crowd. Swinging madly, barely in control, Harry was drawn through the air above the heads of the writhing crowd. Harry's eye caught the knifeman and he let go, swinging his legs out, steel-toed boots coming up.

The man dodged like a wildcat and Harry twisted in the air to avoid getting a knife in his neck. He landed painfully, his leg bending under him, unwilling to support his weight, and he stumbled. The knife flashed towards him.

"Stalagmite!" Harry jabbed his wand down and the cobbles exploded upwards in a jutting spike, knocking the knife away. But the man was too fast his left hand dipped into his clothes and came back with a thin wand before Harry could even stand. Harry had to roll away as a tearing net of razor threads came shooting towards him. He tried to stand but his leg buckled and he saw the flashing knife again, too close this time.

"Stubefy!" The red light smashed the knifeman from behind and threw him to the floor. Harry struggled to rise as Lucy and the two Bakers pushed through the last of the crowd to get to him. Lucy grabbed his arm and he gratefully pulled himself upright. "Are you alright?"

"No!" Harry summoned his cane and glanced around. There were bodies everywhere. He hadn't been fast enough.

"We tried to-" Terry Baker began to speak but a knife bloomed from his shoulder and he was thrown back into his sisters arms. "Aaaah!"

Harry spun with his wand out. Out of the hole in the wall were climbing three more green shrouded figures. Harry's eye buzzed through them and was more behind them. Lots more.

"Get him out of here! Fall back!" Harry yelled. He twitched his wand at the floor and swung it like a sword, growing a wall of stone out of the rough cobbles. Harry saw Anna Baker crying as she dashed away with her bleeding brother at the same time as Lucy ran to stand next to him. "I meant you too!"

"I'm not leaving you."

"That's fine, I'm retreating too!" Harry hobbled backwards, his wand trained on the wall. A blurred shape catapulted over the wall, spinning in the air. Harry's wand flicked out. "Ferio!" The hex struck the man in the air and he crashed to the floor head first with a sickening crunch. Two more followed him and Harry threw more spells, beside him Lucy was madly throwing curses. Harry could see the street behind the wall filling up with enemies. There were far more than the twenty James had warned about.

"Difindo!" Harry raked his wand along the bottom of the wall, forcing himself to ignore the three more warriors that had leapt over the top of it. "Depulso!" His wall flew backwards along the street like a wrecking ball, sweeping the attackers back. Harry didn't have time to gloat as a lion made of fire leapt out of thin air and raked his arm with burning claws. He didn't bother to flame-freeze it, just blasted it out of the air and sent the flames back at the dark figures advancing up the street towards them.

"Harry, didn't that man say something about werewolves?" Lucy was panting beside him.

"Listen if you see a bloody werewolf tell me!" Harry yelled through gritted teeth as he smashed a pillar of ice out of the air. "Until then I think I'll deal with the problem in front of me!"

Harry blocked another curse but even as he did so two more whizzed past him and hit the crowd. He heard cries of pain and anguish. He couldn't stop all of them. He couldn't even stop most of them. This was going to be a bloodbath unless he could stop it.

"They're on the roofs!" Someone in the crowd yelled.

Harry's eye swiveled up and he cursed. There were at least five shadowy figures dashing along the rooftops towards them, the sheer slope not even giving them pause.

"Bloody hell who are these guys? Cover me!" Harry ducked behind Lucy as he jabbed his wand up at the shingles. "Pinguis!" The tiles suddenly gleamed like an oil slick and the running figures tumbled like skittles, skidding and scrabbling to find purchase before falling to the cobbles with a crunch.

Harry saw more spells coming from behind him and felt like cheering as he saw five more marauders dashing to help out of the pressing crowd. Draco skidded to a stop next to him and instantly had to raise a shield to stop a spinning blade.

"They're attacking on the other side too!" Draco yelled, his face covered with a sheen of sweat. "Ginny's keeping them back but there's nowhere for the crowd to go. We're between a hammer and an anvil!"

Harry cursed even as his eye swirled in it's socket and tried to focus to the other side of the crowd. No good, too many people. But he could see spells flaring up from the street beyond. Harry swore again and had to fire off a desperate counter to a purple curse hat hissed through the air like a snake. Harry swung his wand at the shops on either side of the street and yelled a charm. The glass in the windows shattered into knife-edge shards and swept across the street like a scythe. Harry could hear the thuds as it bit flesh. It only gained them moments, new figures appeared almost instantly, crouching behind their dead comrades for cover. Harry used the time to raise the cobbles in another wall but almost instantly it was struck with curses. Blasting away the stone and leaving holes for their enemies to fire through.

"When are the aurors getting here?" Ron asked desperately.

"How the hell should I know!" Harry yelled back angrily. "They may no even be able to get in!"

"What about knockturn alley!" Neville called out suddenly, pointing back into the crowd. "Could we get people out that way?"

"This many people? Crammed in there?" Draco ducked behind a conjured shield. "It would be a meatgrinder!."

"It may be the only chance!" Harry's eye swivelled to find the dark side street. Some people were trying to escape down it but most were shying away. Harry's eye focused further, further down the street... "Oh for the...! Werewolves! Werewolves in knockturn!"

But the cry came too late. They burst out of the darkness like a wave of sweating hair, cutting into the crowd like butter. Whether there were twenty or fifty or more was impossible to tell, they just seemed like one giant raging beast. The screams came louder and louder, as did the howls.

"No! Draco, Ron! Stop them now!" Harry jabbed his arm back towards the alley.

"Can you manage here without us?" Draco said as he began to move.

"Gonna have to!" Harry glanced back at the street, filling again with enemies. "I can't move fast enough to fight werewolves." Harry summoned a wrecked table, ducked behind his makeshift shelter and jammed his wand to the neck. "GINNY SEND TWO OF YOUR PEOPLE TO KNOCKTURN ALLEY. WEREWOLVES!"

Harry had no way to know if she had heard. He just had to hope. Ron and Draco couldn't do it on their own. Harry's eye whirled like a marble, trying to find some other way out. There was nowhere to hide and every moment they waited people were dying. His eyes found gleaming pillars of white marble. A massive building, defensible.

"INTO GRINGOTS!" Harry bellowed out across the crowd. "EVERYBODY INTO-"

Harry was thrown to the floor as his table exploded, showering him with knife sharp splinters. He felt one bounce of his magic eye and shuddered to think of what it would have done to his real one. A knife spun out of the blue and cut a slice out of his arm.

Harry stumbled backwards and almost fell, catching himself on his cane. He aimed a stunner a moving shape but it went wide. He cursed, there were too many of them. Gringots had better be defensible, or they were all truly screwed.
*


Ginny abandoned the failing shelter of a doorway and dashed for a pile of rubble. Spells zinged above her head, too many to count. She dove to the floor and felt her skin tear as she slid behind her the bricks. The street was full of madness. Whoever the hell these guys were they were good. Better than death eaters.

Heat. Lots of heat.

"Ginny get out of there!"

Ginny threw herself forward before the pile she was hiding behind exploded into blue flame. She dashed back to the other marauders, spinning and casting spells at the shadows flitting towards them. Too many to count. Every doorway was a potential attacker. Ginny reached the marauders and spun in time to shield and weather a blast of frozen blades. She heard the crowd behind her yell in pain. Whatever the marauders did it wasn't enough. The people were getting into Gringots but not fast enough, the crowd was too huge and the doors to the bank too small. Too many dying. Ginny steeled herself against the blood. It smelled like a slaughterhouse. She wanted to vomit.

"There's no more cover." Hermione's voice was shaking. "There's no more cover."

"We are the cover." Ginny yelled, trying to sound like Harry. "Line up in front of the crowd!"

"There aren't enough of us."

"Then line up in front of most of the crowd!" Ginny yelled archly. "You chose who you want to let die!"

Ginny ducked to the floor and shielded as strongly as she could as a barrage of spells knocked her back. She didn't try to fire back. She had to use everything she had to keep the shield up. On either side it butted up against Hermione's and Cho's, right now it seemed like a paper wall. Ginny gritted her teeth they had to hold. Just a little longer.

The crowd was surging backwards, slowly seeping away. The marauders backed their wall to follow them. Ginny tried to ignore the fact that every meter the crowd pulled back revealed more bodies from under their feet.

"Ah!!" Ginny's head whipped around at the familiar scream in time to see Cho fall, her clothes burning with purple flame.

"Hold the line!" Was the first thing that came to Ginny's lips as she dropped her shield and blasted water onto the fallen marauder. She dashed to Cho's side and grabbed her arm, hoisting the older girl onto her shoulder. She threw up a hasty shield that shattered instantly under the onslaught and was driven to her knees. Ginny summoned another shield and dragged her burden back, trying to ignore the fact that the arm draping over her shoulder was black with burns. Ginny's brain seethed with rage and she itched to drop her shield and fire dark curses at the enemies before her. But she couldn't. Wand shaking in her hand she kept her slow retreat, her mind recoiling at every spell that slipped through.
*


The black wall of rage just kept coming. The werewolves were mad with moonlight, they didn't even care when they were burnt or bled. You had to cut them down. The cobbles were slippery with blood and viscera.

"Difindo!" Draco flicked open a spurting gash in the neck of a snarling wolf, screeching howls of pain went up. He blocked them out. He glanced behind him, the crowd was squeezing back into the bank like a living thing, they were almost all inside. The marauders were almost back to the entrance now, one wall of defensive shields, one wall of aggressive firing death. He could see Harry breaking giant chunks of road to fling like wrecking balls.

"Draco duck!"

Draco didn't even think, he just slammed himself to the floor. Green light blasted above his head. That was not a werewolf! Draco rolled to his feet, wand out. In amongst the werewolves were loping figures, wands out and firing. Black shrouds of tattered robes around them. Killing curses one after another and another blasting out. They didn't even seem to care if they hit the marauders, the werewolves or one of their own.

"These aren't the same as the ninja guys!" Parvati screamed, ducking into a doorway to avoid the storm of curses. Draco stabbed his wand forward.

"Incendio!" A cloaked figure burst into flame but kept coming. Draco cursed and took aim at a cloaked head. "Reducto!" The head exploded but the body kept lurching forwards.

"What the hell are they!" Ron's quivering voice yelled out from behind. "They don't die!"

"Back up!" Draco desperately waved the marauders back. He stumbled backwards, nothing could give people this power, this was insanity. A hallucination or else a fever dream. Draco dashed across the square away, there was no holding back these creatures. There were still people in the street! Draco ducked behind a bloody werewolf carcass but there was little point, there were enemies all around now. The marauders were being pushed back, the green-clad assassins coming from left and right and the werewolves and impossible warriors crashing in from the front.

Draco screamed as his arm was engulfed in flame and extinguished it with his arm. He shot a curse down the street at a shadow but missed. They were losing. A dark shape loomed over him and he spun, too slow. The robed figure fell on him and he felt steely-cold hands grab both his arms. With an inhuman strength he was held to the floor. The hood came up and Draco felt his eyes go wide with fear.

The face had rotted away.

“Fulgar Fletch!” The corpse above him was thrown backwards as a cloud of knives sliced it to ribbons. A second cloud reduced it to flayed meat and the rotting husk fell to the ground in pieces. "Get up Draco!"

Draco scrambled to his feet and spun to see Harry standing like a bloodstained god of war. He swung his wand in a tight arc and the knives leapt into the air again, each growing a set of dragonfly wings and darting forward to slice another shambling shape to ribbons.

"We can't kill than but we can shred them!" Harry yelled, standing in plain sight like he was daring the things to try to kill them. "We just need to hold for a few more bloody seconds!"

Draco dashed back to the marauder line, spinning and sending flaying curses behind him at the pursuing creatures. In front of him he saw Ron struck in the side, with what he could not tell. Draco dashed to help him but the cobbles between them exploded into razor sharp shrapnel and he was driven back.

"Just a few more seconds!" Harry appeared out of nowhere, one arm gripping his cane like a vice, the other moving in a blur of spell casting. Ron was lifted from the floor and flew towards Gringots, Harry hadn't even been looking at him. "A few more!" His arm was caught with the edge of a curse and he was spun off his feet, pitching him onto the floor.

Draco spun, found the doorway the spell had fired from and sent a swarm of hornets. They were burnt up in mid air before they got halfway.

"Now!" Ginny's voice shouted out. "Everyone inside!"

Draco's feet skidded on the cobbles as he dashed for the steps of Gringots. He shielded as a curse winged towards him and had to roll out of the way of a killing curse. Ginny's marauders were holding the line for just a moment longer, giving the rest of them a chance to get in. Draco powered up the steps and spun when he reached the door, firing curses as fast as he could. Harry was the only one left out there, slowly backing up the steps with his wand out.

He can't climb stairs! Draco realized with horror. But just as the thought hit him Harry spun and fired a chain up past the line of fighters. Harry flew like a firework into Gringots, falling to the marble floor.

"That's it. Everyone in!"

Draco didn't need Ginny's shouted command, his feet were already skidding him backwards. The heavy doors were slammed shut on his heels. He could hear curses sparking against the wood and cracking stone.

"Colloportus!" Harry was back on his feet and pointing his wand at the door.

"Will that hold?" Draco asked, his breath coming heavy in his ears.

"No."
*


"I want those tables stuck across the windows!" Harry gestured with his cane. His eye was flickering around desperately trying to spot any other way their attackers could breach the building. "Raise walls across the floor to shoot out of. And get all these people down into the tunnels!"

"Mr Potter you cannot give orders here!" A goblin appeared from nowhere, his eyes flinty. "You had no right to involve Gringots in wizard business!"

"It was the only was to save these people."

"That is not my problem." The goblin snarled. "Leave now or we will open the door and let those people in."

"Listen shorty." Harry grabbed the goblin by the neck and lifted him off the floor. He was instantly surrounded by a group of armed goblins. Each of them was pointing what looked like a crossbow at him. They didn't look happy however as they were quickly surrounded by a larger group of armed wizards. Harry turned back to the goblin in his fist and hissed, "There are more of us than you."

"And if we open the doors there will be a lot less." The goblin twisted out of his grip and dropped to the floor.

"Wait!" The crowd was pushed aside and Pythea, her face streaked with dirt, stepped between Harry and the goblin. She turned on the goblin with her hands spread out. "You have to let them in."

"I do not have to listen to the fema-"

"These people have accounts. They have vaults." Pythea spoke quickly. "By law if they request to access their vaults you must let them."

"You-" The goblin spluttered but the crowd had already surged towards the tunnel. "No, no wait!"

"I don't think they're listening to you." Harry said to the goblin, over the roar. "And besides, if they get in here do you think they'll stop at killing the humans?"

"You... human." The goblin spat the last word before disappearing into the crush of people. A moment later the building shook like a bell. Harry spun and looked towards the door, he groaned.

"They're trying to break the door down." Pythea breathed, her voice steadier than Harry thought he could have managed.

"They're using one of the pillars for a battering ram." Harry tried desperately to think of something to bolster the door. "Mythril! Dia-obsero! Portapavo!" The door went silver and crusted over with crystals.

"Do you think that will keep them out?" Pythea asked doubtfully.

"No." Harry glanced around at the marauders desperately boarding up windows with anything they could find. He shook his head, the aurors had better come soon. "Is Ron alright? I saw him get hit."

"For now he's alive." Pythea shuddered. "If the ministry don't get here he will not last."

"If the ministry don't get here we're all royally screwed." Harry was looking around madly, trying to think of some other way plan. "How about the rest of us?"

"Terry Baker has a knife in him, I believe it may be poisoned but I cannot tell." Pythea shook her head. "Miss Chang has been burnt, I have done what I can for her. George Weasley was exsanguinated, I have spliced his circulatory system to his twin and they should survive for a while. Joshua Split cannot walk and I have no idea what is wrong with him. He can speak but he doesn't seem to be aware of what is going on. Oh, and I cannot wake Padma Patil. She seems comatose."

"Is anyone not maimed?" Harry growled, anger mixing with fear mixing with grief.

"Harry..."

"We're not gonna last." The building rumbled again. "We're just not."

"Harry!" The cry went up from the other side of the bank. Harry spun and dashed over to where Hermione was peering out a small gap left in the bottom of a window.

"What?" Harry skidded over. "Are they coming in?"

"I thought I saw someone in that house." Hermione pointed down the street. "Can you see?"

"Hold on..." Harry let his eye focus out through brick and plaster, then cursed. "There are three people in there. Children. They're trying to hide in the basement. They're failing."

"What?"

"Six... no seven. Three werewolves and four of the unkillable freaks are in there with them. I think they can smell them. The kids won't stay hidden for long."

"What do we do?"

"We can't do anything!" Harry punched his aching fist into the wall. "We can't get to them!"

"Maybe... maybe we can sneak out!" Neville glanced at the shaking door. "The ninja men are pretty focused on breaking in, maybe they won't bother with one or two people trying to get out."

"The werewolves will," Draco said dully. "They'll chase anything that moves."

"Yes, they will..." Harry put his hand up to his face. "And the dead men seemed to act the same. Maybe I can draw them off."

"You can't." Ginny snapped at him. "You can't run!"

"You... you're right." Harry felt like punching the wall again. "You'll need to do it. Take..." Harry cast around for someone else who could run fast. "Take Vanessa." He pointed at Vanessa Gibbons.

"Me?"

"You." Harry turned back to Ginny. "Draw them back towards the Leaky Cauldron. If you meet the aurors coming the other way tell them to hurry the hell up!"

"What about those three children." Hermione pointed out the window again.

"If someone gets up to the roof through... through that window they can get over there without drawing attention." Harry gripped his cane angrily. Something else he couldn't do. "Draco I need you to go alone. We can't spare more people."

"They're children!" Hermione protested.

"So are we!" Harry shouted back. "And so are half the people huddling in the tunnels right now! Why do you think they picked the day after the Hogwarts letters to attack! We need to save as many people as we can." He stumbled as the building was rocked with another blast. The stone around the door was beginning to buckle. Harry swiped his wand along the floor to clear a space. He pointed down at the marble.

"Koupa!" The stone bent into a heavy bowl. "Ginny, Vanessa. Get in."

He waited while the two girls huddled into the makeshift shelter then hovered it off the floor.

"You ready?"

"Yes." Ginny said confidently. Vanessa just stared out fearfully.

Harry raised them to the level of the window, then drew them back. With a flick of his wand the two marauders were thrown out into the street in their stone cradle. Spells chipped and blazed against the marble but Harry held it as a shield for the two girls, anchoring it to the ground. The rest was up to them.

"Get that window boarded up again!" Harry turned back to Draco. "Go now. You need a lift?"

"No, I got it." Draco turned, cradling his arm. Harry hadn't noticed it was injured. Nothing to be done though, they were all injured. Harry watched as Draco climbed up to the window and broke the boarding just enough to crawl out. Harry turned back to the marauders.

"What are you looking at? We still need to protect this place!" They scattered and Harry began raising line after line of walls as defence. He drew lines of spiked wire in front of the door and disillusioned it. Hopefully they wouldn't notice it.

"Harry maybe you should go into the tunnels." Pythea said quietly behind him. "You're injured too."

"Thea I just sent some of my best friends out to die because I can't do it." Harry's own voice sounded bitter in his ears. "But I'm sure as hell staying here to stop them getting through. That's all I can do, but I'll do it if it kills me."
*


"They're not following us!" Vanessa was peeking out from behind their stone shelter, jerking her head back as a shower of spells bit chunks out of the floor.

"Damnit." Ginny's blood was pumping heavily in her ears. Nothing they did could make the werewolves chase them. Nothing. They were just milling around in front of the bank and howling while the ninja men tried to break in.

"Maybe this will work." Ginny raised her wand up to her arm, where she was covered in blood and soaked the tip of her wand in the oozing liquid. "Oderifer." Red mist floated out from her wand, pooling about them. "Tempesto!" The blood mist drifted out towards the werewolves. There was a long moment when the wining and barking stopped... then a bone-chilling howl.

"Go! Go! Go!" Ginny dashed out from behind the stone and almost tripped as she saw the werewolves bearing down on her. Her feet scrabbled on the cobbles but was moving, blitzing it down diagon alley.

"The dead ones are coming too!" Vanessa screamed as she darted ahead. Ginny threw a look over her shoulder and saw the truth of it. The dead men were sprinting madly in amongst the wolves, their hooded faces up and sniffing the air. Drinking it in like it was honey. Ginny thought she could see glowing red eyes beneath the black hoods. For a mercy the ninja-men seemed to have more self control. They were not following, but instead pounding again on the door of the goblin's bank.

Ginny put all the muscle she could into her aching legs and pounded away from the beasts, barely keeping up with the little sylph of a girl disappearing ahead of her. Vanessa looked over her shoulder,

"Ginny duck!"

Ginny didn't even think, she just let her legs fold under her, falling like a stone. The a wolf flashed over her prone body and crashed to the floor. Vanessa stunned it before it had a chance to rise. Ginny scrambled to her feet but she couldn't move fast enough. An arm closed around her leg. She kicked madly but the arm had the strength of the dead.

"Summon me!" Ginny screamed.

"Accio Ginny!"

Ginny was pulled across the painful cobbles but the pressure on her leg was still there. She looked down and started in horror as she saw a bloody and rotting arm dangling from her ankle. She kicked it off and jumped to her feet, ignoring her injuries.

Well they had wanted the monsters to follow them. At least it had worked. Even if they didn't make it.
*


Draco slid out of the window and pulled himself over the peak of the roof to hide on the other side. He tried to pick good footing as he hurried along the tiles. One chimney... two chimneys... he was looking for the seventh house. For a moment Draco wished he had Harry's eye but pushed the thought away. That way of thinking lead to unfortunate paths.

Seven chimneys. Draco put his ear to the tiles and heard nothing. Damnit.

Back in front of the bank he heard a horrific howling go up. Ginny must have got the wolves attention. Good, at least one of them was doing their job right.

Draco tried to think of a way to break through the tiles without causing too much noise. Silencing charm. Draco cast it and blasted the silent tiles away with a reducto. The space below was black. He leant down, lighting his wand. The light seemed swallowed by the inky darkness.

Suddenly the tiles by his legs erupted and he felt his legs dragged back. He fell like a stone through the tiles and landed on his back with a lightning stab of pain. He kicked as hard as he could and stabbed his wand at the dark shape clutching his leg.

"Confringo!" The figure's chest exploded, raining Draco with skeletal shrapnel. He felt a stabbing pain in his chest. Through the pain his eye caught movement by the stairs. He rolled just before green light obliterated the floor where he had fallen.

"Confringo!" The explosive curse seemed the best weapon against these dead things. Draco pulled himself to his feet and stumbled to the stairwell. He heard a scrabbling and stunned a werewolf as it put it's matted head around the bend.

Draco was breathing hard. He put his hand to his chest and felt a long sliver of bone stabbed into him. Perfect. With his wand held out shakily, Draco slowly made his way down the stairs.
*


They were almost to the Cauldron, Ginny could see it appear around the bend. Vanessa was dashing beside her, her eyes wide with fear. Ginny vaulted over the pile of rubble from the wall and spun with her wand out. They were so close!

"Reparo!" The bricks flew together madly, Ginny willed them to come together faster than the beasts were moving. Vanessa spun beside her and began firing through the rapidly closing gap. Two werewolves leapt through and were sliced to the side. Ginny held her wand tight and tried to force the spell to work faster. A cloaked figure slammed through the bricks and pounced on Vanessa, throwing her to the floor. Vanessa screamed with horror.

The wall wasn't fixed yet!

Keeping her wand trained on the bricks Ginny darted over and slammed her foot into the back of the robed figures head. It didn't even seem to feel it. She kicked again, crashing her foot into the beast's shrouded face. There was a hideous crunch and the head snapped back, hanging by strips of skin. The last brick slammed into place and Ginny whirled.

"Depulso!" The thing was thrown off Vanessa. "Difindo!" She slashed her wand like a blade and fetted blood spurted out, filling the air with a rotten smell. She slashed again, taking off first one arm then the other, then finally the legs, collapsing the dead thing into a twitching heap on the floor. Ginny stumbled to the gutter and vomited.

"Vanessa..." Ginny spoke between nauseous gulps. "Are you alright?"

Vanessa didn't speak, she was staring at the pile of blood-soaked robes and body parts, her dark eyes wide.

"Why didn't you fight him?" Ginny straightened up. "Did you forget everything I taught you?"

"It..." Vanessa sounded like she was speaking from deep in her own grave. "It was my father."

Ginny felt her blood freeze. She walked over to the torso and gingerly lifted the hood off with her wand. She stumbled back and was almost sick again. There was nothing there but a mass of blood and broken bone. Her kick had stove in the rotted bone and left the face looking like rancid mince.

"It..." Ginny wet her lips. "It might have been your father once, but it was just... undead. He wasn't alive anymore."

"He knew who I was." Vanessa was hugging her arms to her chest. "He looked at me and he was smiling. He said my name."

Ginny reached out a hand to comfort her classmate but realized she had nothing to say. She turned to the wall and pointed her wand at the small pipe at the base.

"Oderifer." There was plenty of blood already on her wand and the red mist floated out and down the pipe. There was an instant set of muffled howls from the other side. That should keep the werewolves and dead men off Harry's back for a while.

And give Draco a chance to live. Maybe.

What was that! Ginny whirled, wand out, towards the Leaky Cauldron. She was sure she heard something from inside. Aurors? Not even the most optimistic of wishful thinking could persuade her of that.

"Vanessa, stay here. Keep the spell going." Ginny motioned to the other marauder without looking and slowly stepped towards the doorway. The door was off it's hinges but she could see nothing from inside, just broken tabletops and a bar full of smashed glass. She stepped to the edge of the door and peered around tentatively. There were bodies. But she had seen too many of them today to be horrified. Wait... two of the bodies were green robed like the attackers, slumped over a table. Ginny slowly stepped into the darkened pub and checked around. There didn't seem to be anyone left alive. She stepped up to the two corpses and slowly drew their hoods back. Dull glassy eyes stared back at her out of faces twisted in pain. They had both been stabbed brutally and repeatedly, the second still had the knife embedded deep in his neck.

These two had probably been left as a guard, but who had killed them? Did the killer just leave?

Ginny's blood froze as she remembered why she had come in here originally. She had heard a noise. Thinking back, it could have been someone dissapperating. But that meant that this place was outside the wards! Ginny dashed towards the fireplace and grabbed a generous handful of powder. The green flames that sprung up were the most glorious thing she had ever seen.

"Ministry of Magic! Auror's office!"
*


"Confringo!" Draco didn't even see if it hit before he whirled and shielded desperately as a werewolf pounced on him. It's cursed claws skittered across the surface of the shield and it was thrown backwards. Draco dropped it and stunned the beast.

Where were the rest? Where were the children? These thoughts came to Draco through a haze of pain. The children were in the basement... he needed to go down. Draco staggered to a set of spiral stone steps and started down them, leaning his blooded body against the wall.

As he neared the bottom a door came into view. Before the door were two of the dead things, slamming their rotting bodies against the wood. As Draco approached they turned to face him. One set of glowing red eyes and one of empty rotted sockets.

"Confringo!" Draco ducked back into the stairwell as the first creature exploded and retreated further as a barrage of killing curses came flying down the stone hallway. Draco waited for a gap to spin out from around the corner. "Confringo!" The second beast disintegrated into shrapnel. Draco felt his bad arm explode with pain but didn't look down. He stumbled to the wooden door and slammed his fist against it.

"I'm human." His voice sounded thick and painful. "Let me through."

The lock clicked and the door swung in. Draco's legs gave out and he fell in. He kicked the door closed and glanced into the dark basement. Three shining sets of eyes looked back at him from tiny frames. None of them could have been older than four. They were in pyjamas, already ready to be tucked in when all hell broke loose.

“Are you here to rescue us?” One of them whispered.

“Just stay quiet.” Draco dragged himself to his feet and trained his wand on the door. “Stay very quiet.”

Above him there was the sound of a muffled explosion. The doors of Gringots had finally fallen.
*


Harry was thrown backwards and rolled to his feet. A black shape landed in front of him, long knife raised. Harry slammed his cane straight up into his attacker’s crotch and kicked the man’s legs out from under him. Harry raised his wand to finish the job but another figure darted at him, wand out, out of the dust. Too quick! Harry stumbled backwards as he fenced with flashing lights against his attacker. The man was too bloody quick! The bastard jabbed in with his left hand and Harry felt a gash open along his ribs. Do not let them get close!

“Excalabus!” Harry slashed out and saw shock in his attackers eyes as the shining sword clove him in two. But his first attacker was back up and raging for blood.

Harry didn’t look for help. There was no help. The ninja screeched something and Harry couldn’t dodge in time. Writhing pain in his chest drove him to his knees. Harry turned the fall into a roll and came up with his wand out.

“Ferio!” The spell was blocked but it had given Harry time to stagger backwards. They were coming faster now. Spilling through the broken doorway too fast to count. Harry was driven back by a barrage of spells and ducked behind a barricade, only to have it explode in a mass of marble gravel.

“Atrax!” Harry swept his wand across the rubble, every shard grew spindly legs and fangs and darted towards the enemies. Harry had never used the charm before and hoped to god the spider-rocks were poisonous. He leapt behind a pillar before spinning and jabbing his wand back at the entrance. He fired off a spell and thirty came flying back. The pain in his chest was back. Harry looked down to see his shirt drenched in blood. His or other peoples? Both. Harry could see through the cloth to where his skin had been flayed off in huge chunks by his attacker’s curse. Nothing he’d seen before. Who the hell were these guys?

The sound of other marauders desperately fighting raged in his ears. They couldn’t do much, there was too much dust, to much chaos, for them to see who they were firing at.

Wait...

“Tempesto!” Harry slammed his favorite charm to life and whipped a gale to life, the rubble and dust was thrown away and the creeping bastards were shown to the world.

“Stubefy!”

“Confringo!”

Spells sparked out from the still standing marauders like a wall off spears. Harry’s eye darted madly around the hall, trying to keep up. No, who was that on the floor? Neville... not dead. Harry could see his heart beating.

“Stubefy!” Harry stunned a charging ninja and levitated him up block. Harry darted out from behind his pillar. Three daggers instantly slammed into his human shield. Bugger. Harry dropped the dead weight and dropped to the floor, skidding across the wet marble. He grabbed Neville’s leg and yanked him out of the firing line, throwing a chain to drag them both back to the barricades. Harry dropped him there and darted back to his place by the pillar.

Harry heard a scream and saw a gush of blood. Who was it? No time! Harry swung out from his hiding place and sent a storm of lighting into the mass of attackers. His pillar was struck with a curse. There was a rushing sound and it began to glow from rapidly spreading cracks...

Harry shielded in panic but it barely dulled the force when the pillar exploded from within, throwing him across the room and slamming him into the wall. His arm shattered and pain overwhelmed him.

Occlumency! Come on!

Harry blanked his thoughts for all he was worth and, with agonizing slowness, gained control of his mind again. His arm was broken, shattered like a rod of glass, and hung limply at his side. The wound in his stomach had broken open and was gushing blood. Could he raise his wand? Could he even raise his wand?

“Harry!” Harry could see a bloodstained Hermione hunched over him, shielding him desperately. She grabbed his arm and dragged him back behind the last standing barricade. “Can you stand?”

Have to. Harry tried to rise but fell back. There were only two marauders left fighting and Harry wasn’t arrogant enough to count himself in that number.

Not enough. Not enough left.

They were finished.

Harry grimly gripped the top of the barricade and raised his wand. There were only three pillars left standing. If they went... It he destroyed them... They could at least save the people below. And maybe someone would dig their corpses out of the rubble.

“Reducto!” Harry saw a long crack open through the marble. “Reducto!” The crack widened. “Redu-”

“Wait!” Hermione grabbed his wand. “They‘re... they‘re gone...”

“Wh...” Harry’s eye flickered around, nothing was moving. Nothing but the marauders and the groaning wounded. “Wh... where did they go?” Harry’s mind tried madly to process that. It seemed like they had been fighting for his entire life. His eye cycled out. Out beyond the walls. Black robes. But the good kind. He could pick out Ginny and Vanessa’s small frames out in the middle.

“The aurors are here.” Harry struggled to his feet. Leaning against the wall he could almost do it. “They came. About bloody time...”

Blackness drained back into his mind and he fell back into familiar unconsciousness.
*


Draco pushed the cellar door open gingerly.

“Is it safe?” One of the children whispered.

“Shut up.” Draco muttered.

“Are they gone?”

“Shut up.” Draco slowly made his way forward, wand out in one hand, the other pressed against the wall for support. The bodies were gone. Was that good or bad? Everything was bad.

“Is it safe?”

“I told you to shut-” Draco bit off his angry admonition. They were too young and their parents were probably dead. Give them something. “I think it‘s safe. Let‘s go. Stay behind me. And stay quiet.” Draco dragged his feet up the spiral stairs and stopped at the top. He could hear voices from outside. Someone was yelling orders. Aurors. Finally the bloody ministry.

“The ministry‘s here. No STAY BEHIND ME!” Draco added sharply, grabbing the children back. He stepped forward, carefully looking in every corner. There could still be someone there. No... it was empty. Satisfied he waved the children forward and followed their eager feet to the door.

The cold moonlight hitting his face felt heavenly after the stifling fear of the cellar.

“Here!” He waved to the aurors. “Survivors! What‘s the situa-”

“Look out!”

Draco spun, too slowly! The window above him exploded outwards and all he saw was a flash of fur and teeth before he was driven backwards. On top of him the mountain of snarling death roared, pressing down on his chest. He writhed to try to get out but it pressed down on his frame, sending every old injury raging into new inferno.

“Get off! Depulso!” Draco cried desperately. The beast was catapulted into the air, shadowed against the stars. Draco rolled out desperately and the werewolf crashed back down, it’s bones splintering with the impact. Draco stunned it to be sure and got slowly to his feet.

“You could have helped.” Draco grated at the aurors approaching. “Useless.”

The black robed wizards stopped a few meters away, their hands on their wands.

“Do you know who‘s these children belong to?” Draco waved at the three huddling three. “Do you know...”

The children took a stuttering step away from him. The oldest spread his arms as if to protect the other two.

“What?”

The aurors surrounded him, their wands shaking.

“Do you know... who their parents... or...” Why did his head feel like this?

The children were dragged away from him.

“Why are you doing this...”

Ginny was in the crowd, her hand to her mouth, her eyes wide with horror.

“What‘s going... on... why are you... scared.” His mind burned with crimson fog. “I saved them, they‘re fine... They‘re... fine... no...”

Draco’s eyes dropped to his arm, to the bleeding wound. The bite mark. Red and blazing like writhing cursed fire. A werewolf bite. The pain of all the other wounds faded away, everything else was gone.

“Damnit.” Draco whispered falling to his knees. “Damnit.”
________________________________________


That was a hugely long chapter wasn't it?

________________________________________
I don't own Harry Potter. I own... this piece of chicken. So ha!
________________________________________


Harry came to on a stretcher. How long had he been out? The sky above was pitch black. They hadn't even moved him from Diagon alley, Instead he was lying in a line of the bloody and mauled, a line of white-sheeted and red-stained victims in a triage tent. His eye told him it had been set up barely a stones throw from the decrepit bank. All around him healers bustled between screaming patients, their wands flickering a desperate dance to keep hearts beating.

Harry looked down at his own body. He hadn’t been properly healed, more like... stabilized. Obviously some healer had had time to stop him imminently dying before moving on to more serious cases. Harry looked around for his cane but didn’t see it, ah well, least he still had his wand. Harry picked a long splinter off the floor and enlarged it into a staff. Levering himself up on that he got to his feet.

“Lie back down.” A nurse bustled over to him. “You could still have internal bleeding.”

“I don‘t.” Harry’s eye rolled back in his head. “Trust me.” Harry limped out of the tent into the open air. Aurors were hurrying around purposely and Harry thought he saw members of the order as well. There were bodies laid in rows with sheets pulled over them, a lot of bodies.

Harry cursed, he needed to find someone he recognised, someone who could tell him what was going on. A friendly order member, a familiar auror. A Marauder? Harry tried to find one... no good. Hopefully that meant they were safe. He couldn’t see any of them among the dead. Unless they were one of the ones too burnt to recognize. Harry felt a lump rise in his throat and squashed it down.

“Mr Potter. Good to see you‘ve recovered.” Harry turned slowly, and looked up into the harried face of Kingsley Shacklebolt.

“Why are you here?” Harry asked bluntly. “Aren‘t you acting, temporary, interim minister for magic?”

“If I wasn‘t here I would be back at the ministry giving orders to empty chairs.” Shacklebolt looked tired. Harry had never seen the man tired. “Everyone is out here, doing what they can.”

“Because you told them to.”

“Well yes.”

“And what can they do?”

“Not much.” Shacklebolt had to stand aside as a body was levitated out of the tent. The healer carrying it laid it carefully at the end of the row of dead and conjured a sheet before hurrying back into the triage center. Shacklebolt shook his head. “So many dead. More than we lost in any one attack in this war or the last. And I cannot even think of what the losses would have been if you and your friends had not been here.”

“Yeah, about those friends.” Harry glanced worriedly at the line of dead.

“You're friends are alive Harry. Every one of them.” Shacklebolts rumbling voice dropped a pitch to a sympathetic murmur. “But every one was injured. Some quite badly. I cannot say how deeply in debt the wizarding public is to you and your circle of friends.”

“We‘re called the marauders.” Harry corrected absent-mindedly. “Where are they?”

“They are all in St Mungos, except for young Draco who is back at his home.”

“Why isn‘t he at St Mungos?”

“There was nothing more they could do for him.” Harry noted the ominous note in Shacklebolts voice. Unfortunate possibilities.

"Tell me everything."
*


Harry pushed open the wide front door of Malfoy mansion and stepped into the marble foyer. It was totally silent inside these walls but Harry's eye found movement. He made for it, his makeshift staff tapping on the stone floor. The halls and rooms that had held friends all summer now felt cold and desolate.

Under a distant doorway Harry saw light and made for it, though his eye was already telling him it wasn't who he was looking for. Harry pushed the door open carefully and slipped inside. Snape was stood before an array of cauldrons and beakers, all bubbling away and leaking fumes. Natalie Zhao was there also, leafing swiftly through a thick volume.

"I'm surprised." Harry addressed Snape. "Shacklebolt told you were trying to get a head around all this."

"I think best when I am brewing." Snape didn't look up from his work but Harry could see the thin lines of tension around his eyes. If Snape was giving away how stressed he was then... Harry stepped up to the table and glanced over the ingredients. They told him nothing, but he could guess the potion anyway.

"Wolfsbane?"

"Yes." The lines grew a micron sharper.

"So you've heard."

"Yes."

"I was trying to find him."

"He is asleep. You should allow him to remain so as he will likely get little rest tomorrow night. There is no time to give him a full coarse of Wolfsbane potion. What I am brewing now will merely dull the jagged edge of his inevitable insanity. "

"How could this happen?" Harry hung his head. "Shouldn't have let them do it."

"It is my understanding that they formed this army in your absence." Snape glanced up at him before dropping his gaze back down to his work. "I believe every member knew the risks they were taking."

"They didn't know the risks." Harry almost spat. "Death's just a word till you've been there."

"Then the majority of this planet is similarly ignorant."

"How could this happen?" Harry repeated. "Voldemort should be as weak as a newborn kitten, you told me that."

"Clearly I was mistaken." A snap of acid entered the Professor's voice. "The dark lord seems to have capabilities none of us knew."

"Werewolves I get. I mean I don't, they all left him when I killed Greyback. But... well maybe they have a new leader, or something. The zombies too, I at least understand what they are. But those other guys" Harry shook his head. "They were never death eaters. The spells they used, their whole style of fighting. I've never seen it before. Do we know who the hell they were?"

"Lei Gou." Those were the first words Natalie Zhao had spoken since Harry had entered the room, but she filled them with menace.

"Lie Gou." Harry's brow furrowed. "That's Chinese isn't it?"

"It is." Zhao nodded.

"Well who the hell are they?"

"Mercenaries." Snape hissed the word, like it was a curse.

"More than mercenaries." Natalie corrected. "The Lie Gou are centuries old, they take initiates from all over eastern Asia. They are incredibly skilled. They are also feared, and rightly so. The hiring a company of them has been the tipping point in more than one war. They are ruthless, entirely so."

"How would Voldemort contact Chinese mercenaries?" Harry scratched his head.

"They have factor houses in many cities." Zhao said with irritating calm. "That is not the most pertinent question."

"So what is?" Harry asked irritably.

"How did he pay for it?"

"The Lie Gou are expensive." Snape explained, his eyes peering down into a pool of simmering liquid. "There is a famous tale about two twin brothers, the heirs to a vast estate in Russia, centuries ago. When their father died they both took half the wealth and tried to claim the other half also. There was a private war between their armsmen until one brother hired the Lie Gou, wasting a large part of his inheritance. That side had almost won when his brother offered the Lie Gou more money to switch sides and the battle raged the other way. This went on until both brothers were penniless, the estate reduced to a wasteland, and the Lie Gou growing fat on the suffering."

"That is just a legend." Zhao rolled her eyes. "But it does demonstrates both the vast funds needed to hire the Lie Gou and their fickleness with regards to who's side they fight on. They will also only accept real riches, nothing conjured or created by magic. Gold or jewels, and many of them. Only a rich idiot would employ them."

"Unless they had the funds to assure that they could match any offer their enemy made." Snape said irritably.

"Which we know the dark lord cannot have access to." Zhao snapped her book closed angrily.

"You have no idea what the dark lord has access to-"

"And you do because-"

"Hey!" Harry slammed his staff against the floor. Two sets of eyes flashed to him. "Have a lovers spat on your own time. Clearly Voldemort does have the resources or I wouldn't have spent this pleasant summer evening being shot at, my gut wouldn't feel like it had a spear driven through it and a lot of innocent people wouldn't be DEAD! Now I have the Potter family gold and we can probably count on the Malfoy riches as well. Is it possible we can just buy these people off?"

"You want to give them money?" Zhao looked aghast.

"If it'll stop them working for Voldemort. Um... Yes." Harry stuck his hand on his hip. "Would that work?"

"It is possible." Snape responded guardedly. "I am not entirely sure it is wise."

"Yes, I got the point of your instructional fable." Harry snorted. "How can we contact the Lei Gou?"

"I assume through their factor house." Snape added a pinch of red powder to a cauldron without looking. "Though how we find that is another matter."

"I may be able to find it..." Harry bit his lip. It was a long shot but he knew where he could find information. “Last year I had some contact with.... disreputable types. Maybe one of them‘ll know where we can get in contact with the Lie Gou.”

"Harry," Snape had rounded the table and was standing in front of him. "You must swear to me that you will not go to deal with the Lie Gou alone."

"I won't. I'll bring backup."

"I meant without me." Snape added harshly. "You must tell me if you find their factor house."

"Tell me again how you're better than Dumbledore?" Harry stepped back from the potions master.

"Do not say things you do not mean." Snape said coldly. "We both well know the difference between myself and Albus Dumbledore."

There was a moment of silence. Inside his own head, Harry gulped. Since he had found out the truth and come to peace with it he hadn't though about his true origins much. It was very easy to just think of himself as Harry Potter. Very easy to slip back into that glove. Being reminded of it was jarring, like being hit with the truth all over again. Harry shook it off. It was better to remember, not that he would ever really forget.

"I know." Harry tried to make his voice calm. "This has been a very trying day."

"For everyone."

"Your potion's boiling over."

"It's supposed to." Snape turned and stepped back behind the table. Harry took a deep breath and tried to think of anything else to add, but his tired mind kept coming up blank. Thankfully Snape had something else to ask,

"Other witnesses said they saw the dead men fire spells?" Snape asked. His voice said the question was almost trivial, but Harry saw Zhao perk up at the words.

"They weren't dead." Harry's mouth was dry with the memory.

"Explain."

"Their hearts were beating and they were breathing air. They may have been rotten but they were at least partially alive. And yes, they were casting spells."

"You're sure Harry." Natalie leant forward. "You're sure it wasn't the Lie Gou. Maybe in amongst the dead men?"

"In amongst means nothing to me." Harry tapped his eye. "The dead men cast spells. Well... one spell really. The killing curse over and over, but I saw one levitate a chair out of his way so they are capable of casting other spells."

"That is not possible." Zhao shook her head. "Neither zombies nor inferi can perform magic. And neither have heartbeats. It's... impossible. Magic can only be performed by living creatures, that has been proven over and over again, you must have life. What you describe is impossible."

"Clearly it isn't." The edge of irritability was back in Snape's voice. "Clearly the dark lord has many capabilities we know not of. The question is why have we not seen them before?"

"The question is how do we stop them?" Harry broke in.

"I have already sent order members to check the graves of known death eaters. They have orders to exhume and burn any bodies they find still resident." Harry nodded, he had been about to suggest that. Snape continued, "Other than that... we must find the dark lord."

"Call him Voldemort."

"No." Snape snapped.

"You're still scared of him."

"Some fear is healthy." Snape tapped a long silver spoon with his wand and set it to circle slowly in his bubbling pot. "Especially now that we know he has capabilities far greater than we ever imagined. What I cannot understand is how he has recovered so swiftly from his injuries."

"Maybe he hasn't." Harry shrugged. "He can direct troops and buy mercenaries even if he's just a floaty head, or a disembodied voice."

"He wouldn't negotiate with the Lie Gou from a position of weakness." Snape shook his head. "And whatever he has done to those walking corpses it is clearly powerful magic. No... I fear we must assume he has his old strength back. The parallels between the living corpses reanimated and the dark lord's remarkable recovery are to obvious to ignore."

"You think it's the same thing?"

"I think we can safely assume the two are linked."

"Brilliant." Harry threw his hands up in the air. "So we have three mysteries. How did Voldemort raise himself and his army from death? How did he get the gold to hire the Lie Gou? And why did the werewolves pop back up after deserting him over a year ago?"

"Three mysteries." Natalie Zhao murmured quietly. "Or maybe they're the same mystery. We don't know."

"We don’t know anything.” Harry grimaced. “We don‘t have a bare shred of info and we could be attacked again at any turn.”

“Then perhaps you should go talk to your contacts.” Snape whispered a word and the fire beneath his cauldron snapped out. “But remember what you promised.”

“I will.” Harry pointed at the bubbling potion. “Is that finished?”

“It is, but-”

“I‘ll take it down to him.” Harry grabbed a goblet and dipped it into the broth.

“Should you not let him sleep?”

“He‘s awake.” Harry tapped his eye and turned to leave.

"Harry," Snape's voice stopped him before he could leave. "You know that there may be a very good reason why the dark lord has returned."

"Is there?" Harry looked back over his shoulder.

"You know the prophecy. There is only supposed to be one person capable of killing him. It is possible that, now that person is dead, the dark lord cannot die." Snape was eyeing Harry levelly. His face gave away nothing.

"I am well aware of that." Harry replied dryly. "I'll settle for dismemberment. I'm not giving up."

"Good." Snape nodded faintly. "Neither will I."

Harry turned around and carefully carried the steaming potion from the room. He padded down the corridor, the fumes twisting into spirals in the air. It was hard to keep the goblet steady while hobbling along with his staff. Damn stupid injury. Broken invalid that he was he was he was next to useless. Couldn’t even carry a bloody cup. Harry gritted his teeth and tried to push those thoughts away from him. They resisted, hovering in his hindbrain, mercilessly haunting him. Harry reached Draco’s room and pushed the door open. He didn’t bother to knock, Draco almost certainly wouldn’t have answered and he could already see what Draco was doing within.

As Harry stepped in Draco didn’t look up from what he was doing. Harry placed the goblet lightly on a table and stood, unspeaking. Draco still said nothing, but simply kept running his wand along long metal poles. Welding them together and conjuring more.

Building a cage.

Harry still said nothing, but instead sat on the edge of a chest of drawers and crossed his arms. Draco would speak eventually, he had to, it wasn’t in him to not give his thoughts voice.

“Don‘t try to stop me.” Draco said over his shoulder. “I need a cage.”

“I know that.” Harry nodded, speaking quietly. “But we could build it in another room, no call to ruin the room you‘ll have to sleep in the other twenty-seven days of the month.”

“I‘m building it here.” Draco didn’t give reasons. Harry supposed he didn’t need to. “I need you to make it unbreakable, can you do that?”

“I can. If you want.” Harry waited until his friend nodded, before stepping forward and raising his wand. “This won‘t take long. You want to drink the wolfsbane potion?”

Draco didn’t answer, he just stepped over the goblet and drained it. A flicker twisted his features for a moment before they settled back into a blank, impassive state. Harry flickered some charms over the iron bars of the cage. It wasn’t very large, not considering that a werewolf would be in there. Draco would be fairly cramped. Harry added some cushioning charms to the thick bars.

“Draco, this isn‘t the end.” Harry felt like he needed to say something.

“Isn‘t it?” Draco said bitterly. “Harry I‘m cursed. Permanently damned to be a monster. I‘ll lose my mind each full moon, I‘ll be a dark creature. I‘ll have become the things we kill.”

“The wolfsbane can help you.”

“Liar!” Draco hissed. “There‘s nothing that can help me. There‘s no cure. There‘s no hope. Just go Harry. Just leave me. There is nothing you can do for me... unless... unless you were prepared to-”

“Stop. Talking.” Harry bit the words out.

“I tried to do it myself.”

“Stop.”

“The killing curse doesn‘t work if you cast it on yourself.”

“Stop talking now.”

“Please...” Draco’s eyes were wide and his voice shook. “Please do it or leave me to.”

“Don‘t say this. Don‘t do this.” Harry felt his grip on his tall staff tighten. “Just shut the hell up.”

“Fine.” Draco drew his wand. “Just leave then Harry. I‘ll do it myself.” He raised his wand but Harry was faster, slamming his staff up into Draco’s hand and sending the wand spinning away. Harry darted forward and grabbed Draco by the front of his robes.

“I have had enough of that from you.” Harry hissed, his rose up close to the pale face of his friend. “I will take your wand away if I hear you talk such undisguised cowardice as that again. You. Can. Still. Live.”

“As a monster. As something I despise.”

“If there is one thing I‘ve learned from all this crap I‘ve been through is that life is precious and death is pointless.” Harry released Draco from his grip.

“You‘ve said nothing that changes anything.” Draco turned away from him, bowing his head. “My life is pointless now. Entirely so. I would rather be dead, and unless you intend to stay with me every day you cannot stop me.”

“I would stay with you every day, I really would. But I‘ve got things to do so... ” Harry moved like a snake, whipping Draco’s legs out from under him and sliding him across the floor. He flicked the heavy door of the cage open then slammed it closed again as Draco tumbled through. With a second flick Harry summoned Draco’s wand into his hand, then the knife that was in a Draco’s pocket and a letter opener from a drawer. His eye tried to seek out anything else that could be used to cut or kill. After a moment’s thought he summoned Draco’s potions kit out of his school trunk, who knew what poisons there were in there. Draco had lifted himself up to his knees and was staring at him, eyes full of hatred. Harry stepped right up to the cage.

“You are not dying today. You will not kill yourself. I will not let you.” Harry locked the cage door with several charms he knew no wandless wizard could break through. “Your life is not over. Maybe nothing I can say can make you realize that right now, but you‘re still going to live. Whether you like it or not.”

“But...”

“I have to go. People to see.” Harry turned towards the door, on the way he grabbed a book and tossed it to Draco. “Here, something to read. You‘ll need to study for the year at Hogwarts that you will be attending.”

Harry stepped out the door and pressed it shut, leaning back against the wood. Everything was going to hell, and he had no idea how to fix any of it. Not the slightest idea. Where was he even going? He had a few ideas but... nothing concrete.

He could go to St Mungos perhaps... check on the other marauders. But he wasn’t sure if he could take any more misery. There was nothing he could do for them anyway. But then there was nothing he could do out here either.

“I‘m beginning to think stabbing that bastard in the neck was a fantastic waste of time.” Harry muttered into the empty air.

The job isn’t done yet.

Harry shuddered at the dread certainly in his mind.

More work to do.

Harry pushed himself forwards, leaning like an old man on his splinter-staff. Still more work to do. There was just one place he could find the information he needed.

He needed to visit The Tarot.

But there was somewhere else he had to go first...
*


Ginny curled her legs up under her. The chairs in the St Mungo’s rooms were familiar now, but it was still impossible to get comfortable in them. They even seemed... empty. Only four chairs occupied, herself, Hermione, Lucy and Vanessa. The only four still on their feet at the end of the battle. Everyone else was in a bed, most still unconscious. Things seemed grim

Ginny had tried to keep their spirits up, pointed out that the four survivors were all girls and how they were never going to let the boys live it down. But there was no laughter here and Ginny had given up. She looked across the beds. Cho with her burns, Split paralyzed, Anna slammed against a wall like a doll by one of the dead men. They were lucky to be alive, Ginny told herself, lucky to be alive.

Ginny shook her head. It was hard to think of this as any sort of luck.

She turned towards the other set of beds, stepping up to stand next to them. No... hard to see it as any kind of luck. She looked down at her parents. Hard to see it as any sort of luck. She put her hand carefully on her mother's bandaged arm. The healers said it would be weeks before they were even awake. Not luck at all.

Ginny shuddered and turned back towards the marauder beds. Vanessa was awake again and clinging to the side of Elizabeth's bed like it was a life-line. The little girl was badly shaken, not surprising really. Ginny thought of her as a little girl despite the fact that they were in the same year. Poor girl had seen her evil father chopped up in front of her. At least the first time he had died she hadn’t been there to watch.

Ginny shook herself. Draco’s father had died in front of him and he had recovered alright, but maybe that was because it was Draco that had killed him.

Draco...

Ginny glanced towards the door. She wanted to go to him, comfort him. But her parents were here, they needed her. The marauders were here and they needed her too.

Except that there was nothing she could do here.

There was nothing she could do there either.

Ginny gritted her teeth and tried to stop herself from screaming. The one thing she hated was to feel useless.
*


Harry was getting odd looks from passers by. He ignored them. Not just because that was his way but because Harlesden wasn’t a place you stared at people in. It wasn’t a terrible place, Harry knew far worse parts of London for a clearly injured man to walk through. But it was bad enough to make him check alleys with his eye before walking past them, and enough for him to keep his wand tucked in his sleeve in easy reach.

He checked the scrap of paper in his hand and headed quickly towards a tall, brown, concrete block of flats. Harry checked the paper again and reflected on the brilliance of the invention of the elevator. A group of kids in hooded jumpers stared at him as he stomped past, trying to look threatening. Harry sniffed, barely stopping himself from laughing. Thought they were tough did they?

Harry stepped into the cold entrance hall and pressed the call button for the elevator. As it slowly descended towards Harry he spent a quiet moment reading the graffiti. It reminded him of when he was young.

Harry rode the elevator up, his nose wrinkling up at the very noticeable urine smell and stepped out on the top floor. It wasn‘t even a corridor, just a long concrete balcony. In winter it must have been freezing. He didn't need to check the paper again, he had it down by now. Apartment 12. Harry knocked loudly and waited. He heard footsteps on the other side and focused his eye through the wood. He was gasping in surprise long before the door opened.

"Tonks?" Harry's eyebrows raised. "Didn't expect to see you here?"

"Harry? Wh... What are you doing here?"

"What are you doing here?" Harry cocked his head to one side. "Shouldn't you be cleaning up diagon alley?"

"I was injured. Kingsley sent me home."

"But you didn't go home." Harry said pointedly. "You went here."

"How do you even know where here is?"

"Werewolf registration act." Harry held out the piece of paper for her to see. "Any concerned citizen can find out where the monsters live." Draco hovered into Harry's mind and his stomach lurched a little. Not monsters then... not all of them. Most of them though.

"You came to see Lupin." Tonks put her hand to her mouth in shock.

“Yes. Can you get him? Please.”

“I... I don‘t know. He‘s only transformed back an hour ago. I came to bring him some breakfast and help him recover. He still hasn‘t got out of bed though.”

Which means you had a key. Harry didn’t say it. Instead he harshly said,

“Draco was bitten. Didn‘t you know?”

“Draco. Oh god no...”

“Yes. He was bitten.” Harry stepped forwards angrily, forcing Tonks back into the apartment. He‘ll have to go on a bloody list and take that putrid poison they call a potion and he‘s in his room at the manor right now in a freekin cage he built himself!” Harry bit his words off before he told her what Draco had wanted him to do. Later, when he was better, Draco wouldn’t want people to know.

“And you want Remus to... what? Talk to him?”

“Just get the bloody wolfman Tonks. Get him now. Oh wait...” Harry glanced over towards the faded bedroom door. "Never mind."

“It‘s alright Tonks.” A grating moan sounded and the door was pushed open slowly. "I'm awake."

"Are you sure he was a wolf?" Harry stepped out from behind the pink haired girl. "He looks like he's hung-over."

"Harry," Tonks held her hand, her eyes narrowing angrily. Harry was forced to remind himself that the girl with the heart shaped face was an auror of the Moody school.

"Professor Lupin..." Harry addressed the grey-faced man. "Draco was-"

"I heard." Lupin said flatly. "There is nothing you can do. There is nothing I can do."

"I'm not after a cure, I'm not that stupid." Harry growled back. "I need you to talk to him. You need to show him he still has something to live for."

"Look at me Potter." Lupin glanced down at his shivering, robed body. Harry, for the first time, noticed multiple old fractures in his bones. Almost every bone in him bore some mark of his lifelong curse. Harry gritted his teeth. Maybe he should have just done what Draco asked... No! Those kind of dark thoughts led to things like gouged-out eyes.

"Look just talk to him." Harry pleaded. "I have work to do, I need to go to some dark places today and meet strange people with little sense of humour and less personal hygiene. I know you hate me. I even know why... a little. I don't understand but... whatever. Long story short you despise me. But whatever you think about me don't take it out on my friends. Come on... help him."

"There is nothing I can do."

"Tell him it isn't as bad as it seems."

"It is as bad as it seems."

"Then lie to him." Harry snarled. His fingers gripped his staff so hard the wood splintered. Lupin stepped back, his eyes wide with shock. "Lie to him if you have to. Tell him turning into a wolf isn't so bad. Tell him it's a barrel of laughs. Tell him it's like a sneeze only better. Tell him anything!" Harry stepped forward, pointing his staff like a weapon. "Tell him whatever the hell you would have wanted to hear. I don't care! All I know is that while you lie here with a booty call young enough to be your daughter my friend, my friend who has saved my life on numerous occasions, is thinking his life is over and I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO SAY TO HIM! I don't know! I can't think... I can't help him! He's saved my life and I don't know how to help him!" Harry turned his side to Lupin so he could only see his fake eye. Couldn't see that he was crying.

"I do not know how to help him either." Lupin half turned back towards his bedroom. "He will have to get through this himself."

"You're a coward. You always did like to hide." Harry let the words flow from his lips like silk over ice. The effect on Lupin was electric. The werewolf spun back to face Harry, his eyes wide with shock.

"How... how..."

"Just something I remembered." Harry let the words sink in. He didn't really remember much. Dumbledore had taken his own memories of James Potter and thrown them into Harry's mind. Now that he knew that he could almost tell where they were. It was like there was a giant black tar pit over one part of his mind. Occasionally things would bubble to the surface but it was impossible to go swimming. Lupin swallowed harshly before opening his mouth and levelly saying,

"Get out of my home Potter. Get out."

"You going to talk to Draco?" Harry didn't move. "Or are you going to hide in your shack?"

"I will talk to the boy." Lupin gritted his teeth. "Because he is Tonks' cousin. Not because of you. I will-"

"So not interested in your reasons." Harry snorted and turned back towards the door. Harry pulled the door shut on two angered faces and dropped backwards off the balcony. He was halfway down before he remembered he no longer had a drop-gem embedded in his chest.

“Bardus accido!” Harry had barely whipped his wand out in time and the spell didn’t have time to catch properly. Harry crumpled and rolled as he his the floor. His leg screamed with pain. Harry grabbed his staff and pushed himself to his fee-

CRACK!

Harry was thrown back to the floor as his makeshift staff finally gave out and splintered into giant shards.

“Bugger.” Harry grimaced and looked around. There were no convenient pieces of wood he could work with. No twigs or splinters. Wait... there was a tree over there by the road. Harry hopped to his feet and limped painfully in that direction. He made it to the tree and picked a knobbly twig off the floor. Another engorgement charm gave him a rude walking stick. Harry leant on it gratefully and breathed heavily. It just made everything more difficult. Harry shook his head, where he was going next he couldn’t afford to show too much weakness. Harry brushed his sweat filled hair out of his eyes. It had been a long day. The parts that hadn‘t been excruciatingly painful had been full of aggravation.... the next person who pissed him off would-

“Give me your wallet!”

Harry didn’t even think. His staff flashed up and slammed the mugger in the chin. Harry could have sworn he saw teeth shatter and fly away. The moaning would-be thief crumpled to the floor before scrambling up and fleeing, white trainers flashing and scraping on the pavement.

“I don‘t carry a wallet.” Harry turned and limped off down the street.
*


Ginny slowly pushed the door open. In the middle of the room was a cage of blackened metal. The lights were dimmed to the point of total darkness but Ginny could still see the pale pump in the middle of the cage, a mountain of pale hair barely fitting in between the bars. It rose and fell slowly with the sound of breathing.

The floorboards under the cage were torn and splintered, and covered in blood. The wolf must have known it couldn't get out between the bars, but it had tried anyway. Hair and slobber stained the floor with a pale carpet. The whole room smelt like the den of an animal. How could so much have happened? How could this have happened?

Ginny shivered. No one was watching now, she could break down. Everyone was hurt, diagon alley was ruined. Was it her fault? She could have trained them harder. Should have pushed them to keep training even after Voldemort's apparent death... nothing should have stopped them keeping in practice. People were dead because of that. People were dead because of her. And that made her insides knot up like rope. Was it bothering Harry? Probably not... he was probably out beating someone up for information or fighting a dragon or something. Nothing rattled him.

Ginny sat down in a heavy armchair and pulled a throw over herself. It smelled like wet dog. The whole room did. Ginny pulled the heavy cloth up and bunched it in front of her. For a moment she wondered where her childhood teddy bear was. Probably in a cupboard somewhere.

Ginny pulled her legs up onto the chair and hugged them to her chest. Fevered sleep eventually came.
*


Harry flicked his hood up as he turned into a disused alley. He slowed and bowed his head a little. Better to seem old and infirm than young and crippled. He tried to fade into the background, not that it would really matter. After the chaos in diagon alley most wizards were staying at home. This wasn’t really a wizard street. There was a starbucks on it. But apart from that the shops were mostly magical, and not the nice kind of magic.

Harry reached his destination and looked up. A dirt encrusted sign read Fortunes told Fortunes found. Harry pushed the door open and was assailed by incense and smoke.

“Welcome my child.” A heavy breathy voice sounded out of the gloom. Harry could see her of course, but acted like he couldn’t. “Have you come for guidance from the spirits?”

“I need to visit the Tarot.” Harry said the fixed words he needed to say. “Is this the place I can find it?”

“Who can say? Perhaps I can show you the way.”

Harry stepped forward and a chair faded out of the smoking air. Harry sat down and waited while the smoky figure on the other side of the table slowly shuffled a deck of scuffed cards. Harry watched the fingers carefully, if you paid really close attention you could see her stack the deck. Harry tried not to yell for her to hurry up. They didn’t need to go through the charade, they both knew why he was here. Except that if he demanded she go faster he would get nothing. He had to play their game.

“What is your birth month child?”

“July.” Harry said without thinking. It didn’t matter anyway. It was a fake month given for a fake tarot reading that wouldn’t have predicted anything even if it was real. Harry watched as the ‘seer’ flicked cards down one after another.

“This is for the past, this is for the future.” Harry tried not to roll his eyes. “This is the outcome of the viewing.” The woman laid down the tower card. “Meaning catastrophe.”

“Obviously.” Harry stood and clicked a coin down on the table. “Thank you.” Harry turned and stalked out of the shop. A set of smoke-shrouded eyes watched him go. Harry hurried to the nearest flue node and tried to remember where he was going. The tower was one he’d seen before... where was it... Oh yeah, Glasgow.

Harry picked a pinch of powder and stepped into the flames. The spinning flames whisked him away and he gritted his teeth, flueing with a gamey leg was always painful. Harry fell out onto a stone floor with a stabbing pain. But recovered fast and ambled out of the shop, waving pleasantly to the bemused wizard shopkeeper.

He stepped out into the street and looked up into the sky. It was sunny now, he wondered what time it had gotten to be. Breakfast had never happened. Lunch would probably never materialize. Harry reached into his bag and drew out something that felt like food. An apple. Good enough. Harry clicked down the muggle streets, wondering if he was throwing himself in over his head. People were looking at him funny and he realized he was wearing wizard robes. Sod it, who cared.

Harry looked up and saw the swinging sign he was looking for. A faded pub sign of a stone tower. The same one that had been on the card. This was what he was looking for.

This was the Tarot. The den of thieves, a near legendary pit of iniquity. Every auror in the country would have given their right arm to find this place. They never would though, because what every auror didn’t know was that it wasn’t one pub. It was twenty-two.

Every day the location changed, you only found out where from the tarot reader. The wife of the proprietor. On any other day the other twenty-one, the Fool, the Death, the Justice and the rest, would just be muggle pubs like any others. Harry didn’t know where the muggles who usually went to the pubs went on the days when their local was designated the Tarot. Probably drank at home.

Harry pulled his hood up, it didn’t do to enter the Tarot concealed, and stepped inside. Within it was warm and faint music played. Harry couldn’t see where it was coming from, probably out of someone’s wand. The chairs around the old oak tables were high backed, leather and padded. The fireplace was roaring cheerfully.

Harry liked the Tarot, it was homely. Contrary to what you might think there were no fights in the Tarot. People didn’t come to the Tarot to bar-room brawl, they came for business. Serious business. Of course if you pissed off the wrong person you would be chopped up and fed into the mincing machine to be sold as hamburgers to the muggles over the next few days.

Such is life.

Harry clomped over to the bar and slipped onto a stool. There was no bartender, Harry could see him behind the wall hulking around an empty barrel. The pub was surprisingly full, every booth was full of muttered conversation and every table surrounded by serious looking men. Men who had other men sitting next to them who never spoke. Men in very good robes, or very good suits. Harry tried not to look to closely at them. It didn’t do to pay too much attention to people in the Tarot.

Harry shook his head ruefully, of course the place was full. Diagon alley had been crushed, shaken and blasted to the ground. These people would be discussing how that effected their plans... their plots. Would they have time to talk to him about his own problems? What was he thinking... of course they would. For enough gold. He just had to ask the right questions.

How would he do this? Harry ordered red wine when the bartender came back. It was served to him without question, and without comment. Harry stepped over to an empty table and rested a galleon against the bottom of his glass. The Tarot had signals, subtle ones. Harry didn’t know more than the barest scraping of them. But he knew this one, gold against red wine meant you were interested in assassins. Actually it meant you wanted someone killed but it amounted to the same thing.

Harry leant his knobbled staff against his chair. Whatever happened he was going to find the bloody Lie Gou. It would take as long as it took.
*


Draco woke into a hideous pain. It seemed like every bone in his body had been shattered and reformed, every muscle was being turned to mush by some flesh rotting bacteria, and his throat felt like he had drunk crushed glass.

He opened his eyes and slowly tried to push himself to his knees. His hands were shaking. No... his whole body was shaking. He couldn't even focus his eyes. Draco let himself fall back to the floor, the pitted and splintered wood bit into his sensitive skin and he couldn't help but cry out. There was no point in getting up, he couldn't unlock the cage anyway. Was it even worth reaching between the bars to drag his clothes back onto his aching body? He didn't want to be naked when someone came to check on him but he didn't think he could physically put the clothes on. Maybe if he gave himself a moment to recover... to heal. Then he could manage it. Maybe in a few minutes... if he just concentrated on breathing.

"Draco?"

The voice registered on the higher reaches of his brain but did nothing to the lower. He knew he should respond somehow but had no idea how to.

"Are you awake?" A face came into view, framed by ginger hair. Draco coughed roughly, shock making his throat close like a vice. His legs came up, trying to hide himself from the girl in front of him. She disappeared like a ghost and Draco momentarily thought he had imagined her. But then a heavy cloth dropped on top of him from the top of the cage. He weakly pulled the woven cloth over him and tried to cover himself without scraping the cloth over his skin.

"Draco... are you alright?"

"Do I look alright?" Draco whispered.

"Do you want some water?"

"Why are you here?" Draco wrapped the cloth around himself and tried once again to push himself to his knees and shuffle closer to the bars. "What are you doing in my room?"

"Well sorry for caring if you were alright!"

"I'm a werewolf. I'm not alright. I will never be alright." Draco's eyes flickered down to Ginny's rumpled clothes. They were the same ones she had been wearing yesterday. Draco realized he could even smell Ginny's scent on the throw over him, and wafting over from his deep armchair. "Did you sleep here?"

"Yes."

"You idiot! You slept in a room with a werewolf! What if I had broken free! You could have been killed!"

"You wouldn't have hurt me."

"Do you know what a werewolf is?" Draco shook his head, all this shouting was making his already aching head split apart. "Of course I would have hurt you!"

"Alright fine." Ginny crossed her arms. "But I could have stunned you or-"

"While you slept?"

"I..."

"Why were you here anyway?" Draco hugged his arms to him, trying not to throw up.

"I just..." Ginny's eyes dipped. "I came here to see if you were alright, but you were already transformed. I was so tired, I just went to sleep."

"You just... went to sleep?" Draco's eyes widened, then closed again when the light hurt his brain. "Why didn't you go to your own room?"

"I just... I just went to sleep." Ginny knelt down, she looked almost as tired as he felt. "Seriously Draco are you alright?"

"No. But it's not any worse than I expected." Draco leant against the bars. Having someone there might
actually be a good thing, it forced him to get up and act with some semblance of normality. If Ginny hadn't been there he probably would have still been lying on the floor. "Lupin came and told me what to expect. He didn't leave anything out. At the time I hoped he might be exaggerating..."

"Draco..."

"I can't believe this cage is the rest of my life..." Draco bowed his head, resting his head against the bars. He closed his eyes, letting himself slide down. It wasn't just that he would have to go through this every twenty-eight days. That he could almost have dealt with. But the fact that he was a... a thing... he couldn't allow himself to be a marauder now. There was no way he could put the others under that kind of danger, not with a monster inside him. He couldn't go back to Hogwarts either, that was out of the question. All those children... he would be putting them all in danger.

So what was his life now? He might as well never leave this cage... he really should have slit his own throat. If only the wolf had ripped its own heart out during the night.

His life was now worth nothing. Why...

"Draco..."

Why the hell was she still here. Why wouldn't she leave. Why was she- WHAT THE HELL!

Draco's eyes shot open as soft lips slammed roughly into his.
*


He wasn't moving his lips against hers and his eyes were wide with panic. Ginny drew back, her hands shaking a little. That had been her first real kiss. On the whole it hadn't been very good. She could taste blood on her lips.

"Ginny?" Draco's voice was dry and startled. "Why.... why?"

"To remind you you have something to to live for you prat." Ginny said angrily.

"To live... for..." Draco's eyes widened in understanding. "You mean you... like... Me?"

"Yes! Merlin's beard you're dense!" Ginny rocked back on her heels, hugging her arms to her chest. Draco was just sitting there, staring at her. It was like she'd had broken his brain. "Well? Aren't you going to say something?"

"But... you can't..." Draco's eyes were flickering wildly. "You... but I'm..."

"What?" Ginny broke in. "You think because you're a werewolf I could never be with you!"

"Yes!" Draco blurted.

"You think I care!"

"You... you... yes you should care." Draco pulled his throw closer about him. "You should care."

"Well I don't!"

"Well I do." Draco shook his head frantically. "I couldn't do that to you. I mean... associating you with a creature. Couldn't do that. To you. You deserve better. I'm... I'm sorry."

"And what I want." Ginny gritted her teeth, Her heart was a churning whirlpool, beating faster and faster. She didn‘t know if she wanted to burst into tears or punch the shaking boy in front of her. "That doesn't matter to you?"

"On balance. No." Draco shrunk back to the other end of the cage. “I‘m sorry Ginny... you should leave. I‘m so sorry. I just... I‘m sorry and you...”

“Stop!” Ginny knew which one now. Her fists were twitching. “Just stop you... you... boy! You think you can just apologize!”

“Well what else can I do?”

“You can shut up!” Ginny stood and stomped towards the door. “Get yourself out of the bloody cage!”

She slammed the door shut angrily.

Bloody prat.
*


Draco slammed his forehead against the bars. The ringing note grated on his ears but the pain just melted into the agony already sinking through his skull.

What else could he have done? He was just... broken.

“Well you bolloxed that up didn‘t you.”

Draco’s head rose slowly and when he saw who had spoken he quickly pulled his throw around to cover himself better. Harry was leaning against the wall nonchalantly. He had massive black bags under his eyes and he smelled like stale drink and cigars. Draco realized he’d been smelling that for awhile.

“How much did you hear?”

“Not all, but enough.” Harry’s eyebrows rose.

“I don‘t want to talk about it. It‘s done.”

“Wasn‘t gonna mention it.” Harry folded his arms. “Wasn‘t gonna mention how you basically emo-slapped a close friend. How you cut her heart out with a great big knife made of misplaced pathos. Wasn't going to touch on the fact that you're a TOTAL MORON! Not gonna-”

“Shut up Harry. You don‘t know what you‘re talking about.” Draco pulled his throw closer about him.

“Instead I was going to ask if you think you‘ll be alright by this evening.” Harry smiled evilly. “I found the base of the ninja guys, and I think we need to pay them a visit.”

"I don't... I don't know if I'll be up to it." Draco shook his head. It wasn't self pity, just simple truth.

"Well I'm going to be offering them large amounts of your money in addition to mine so you might want to be there."

"Give them whatever you want." Draco waved his hand vaguely. "I don't want any of it. I never did. Just leave me enough to live on."

"So you've decided to live?" Harry stepped forward, grinning cheekily. "If I'd known a kiss was all you needed I would have dragged Ginny here myself. Heck I would'a kissed you if got you to stop eyeing up the letter openers." Harry drew his wand and flicked it towards the cage door. Draco pushed it and it swung open slowly.

"It wasn't the kiss." Draco shakily crawled out of the cage and rose to his feet, the movement making him nauseous. "It wasn't the kiss."

"Don't believe you." Harry shrugged and turned towards the door. "I think someone's making oatmeal in the kitchen. Not Molly Weasley but still..." With a final wave Harry clomped off down the corridor.

Draco leant back against the cage, too tired to try to dress. His life had, in a day, become much, much more complicated. And the lycanthropy was only part of it.
*


Harry stood outside the door to the ward at St Mungos and bit his lip. It had been over a day since the horrendous battle. Over a day since they had seen him. What was he supposed to say? Would they accuse him of not being there for them? They would be right to. But there had been too many things that he had to do, and not enough time to do them. His magic eye flicked from bed to bed. How could he talk to them when every moment he could see the damage that had been done to them. Damage that was his fault.

"Why haven't you gone in?"

Harry spun at the sound of the new voice behind him, then relaxed. He let out a sigh of relief.

"Thea," Harry stepped forward and hugged the little seer, pressing her into his chest. "You're alright."

"I didn't have to do any of the fighting." Pythea murmured against him before pushing away and fixing him with an apprising stare. "Where have you been?"

"I was trying to find out... Trying... I was working." Harry's eyes flickered around to the ward. "I should have come sooner. I'm sorry."

"You don't have to apologize to me." Pythea smiled. "You always get the hard decisions Harry."

"I should go in now."

"No, do something for me first." Pythea put a hand on Harry's shoulder.

"What?"

"Tell a joke."

"What?"

"I'm serious Harry."

"A... a joke?" Harry didn't know where this was coming from. "This isn't exactly a joking time."

"Harry at the end of last year you promised we had seen the last of the angry, self-destructive, madly driven and vengeful man you had become. Don't break that promise. Don't go through that door as that man, he can't help them. Them, and me, we want the old Harry back. The one I've seen this summer. Please."

"I... I..." Harry felt his mouth dry. Was he going back to the dark place? Maybe. Getting weird magical stuff stuffed into his bones did sound remarkably appealing. But he could still win without it. He wasn't the hero of prophecy, he was doing things his way. Harry smiled wryly. "I jumped off a building."

"What?"

"Twentieth floor. I forgot I don't have a drop-gem any more."

"You jumped off a building?" Pythea incredulousness turned to giggles. "Harry you are insane."

"Broke my cane too." Harry smiled as the girl in front of him chuckled into her hand. "Then I was mugged."

"Mugged? You? Really?"

"If you want a new necklace the guy's teeth are probably still there." Harry grinned. "That enough of a joke for you?"

"That will do nicely Harry." Thea shook her head, still laughing quietly.

"So I can go in now? Or do I have to answer some riddles as well?" Harry asked, smiling. When Thea nodded he stepped towards the door. "Thank you Thea."

"You're welcome Harry."
________________________________________


Haven't actually written anything more. Not good. My buffer of pre-written chapters is running thin...

________________________________________
Have managed to write a bit more now. Stupid things like my degree and real life keep getting in the way.
________________________________________




Harry could have sworn his tendons were tensed like rubber bands. His eye was spinning rapidly, seeking every shadow and his heart was pumping with the light staccato hammering of suspense.

"Well this is a wonderful place for an ambush." Harry tugged his coat in closer to him and stared up at the scraggy cliffs to either side.

"Do you see an ambush?" Snape asked calmly, striding next to him.

"No, but I don't trust them not to have some tricks up their sleeve." Harry sighed and trudged forward along the rough stone track. It was late enough that the air was pleasantly cool, the sun still streaming brightly over the cliffs to their left. They were far enough from the muggle road that the only sound in the air was the whistling of the wind and the buzzing of insects.

"Are you certain they are here?" Snape asked, glancing up at the Welsh cliffs. "It does not seem like the kind of place for the Lie Gou."

"What were you expecting? Chinatown?" Harry tweaked an eyebrow.

"Perhaps."

"Too predictable." Harry's eye picked up their destination in the distance, shimmering glassily in the sun. It was a moment longer before it came into true view, a little lake in the centre of the valley. The path meandered towards it, crossing a little stream and cutting a path through the heather. As it drew close to the still glassy water Harry drew to a stop and looked down. Little round pebbles.

"Is this it?" Snape stopped next to him.

"This is where the guy said." Harry couldn't see anything out of the ordinary even with his magic eye. It just looked like a normal lake.

"There was a password." Snape prompted.

"Keep your incalculably greasy hair on." Harry knelt down and put his lips right up to the water. "Agoredig Ffordd." The pressure of his words made ripples on the water. He straightened up. Nothing had happened.

"Are you certain those were the words?" Snape sounded doubtful.

"Relax teach." Harry closed his eyes. "This is far worse for me if I'm wrong." He leant forward and allowed himself to fall, head first, into the water.

The icy water felt like a curtain of silk. No wetness. No fear. No pebbles. Harry's momentum spun him up on the other side and he had a moment of vertigo when his brain told him he was standing on a ceiling. He took a breath and steadied himself. Everything around him looked the same, same rocks, same wind. He could almost have been fooled into thinking he hadn't moved at all.

With a whispering splash Snape sprang out of the lake. Harry gave him a moment to settle himself before asking,

"Satisfied?"

"That password was Welsh." Snape glanced back at the lake. "Not Chinese."

"I know," Harry shrugged. "I figure this place is probably ancient, the Lie Gou just took it over."

"Interesting," Harry could see the gears spinning in Snape's head.

If you're thinking there may be other ways in here. Harry fixed his eyes to Snape's There probably are, but can we trust that the Lie Gou don't know about them?

Not with any certainty. Snape shook his head. And you are right. We should communicate this way while in there territory.

Interesting how you try to make that sound like your idea. Harry rolled his eyes.

"Did your source tell you where to go next?" Snape said out loud.

"No, but I can guess." Harry smiled and pointed out behind Snape. The potions master turned.

"Ah... yes." The wall of the valley was carved out in massive stone columns and a massive stair had been hacked into the rock. At the top, framed against the setting sun, was a tiered temple in red wood. Rising up to the sky like a pyramid of fire. "I suppose this is the place."

"They should be expecting us." Harry set off, his cane clicking on the stone. "But I'm not looking forward to all those stairs."

As they set off across the heather Harry let his eyes wander. This place looked entirely normal up close but the further away you looked the more the vista seemed flat and unreal, like whoever had made this place hadn’t extended it much beyond this valley. There were animals though, insects and birds and rabbits in their holes underground. To what degree was this place just a reflection?

Harry shook his head. An academic or a historian might care. He didn’t. They reached the foot of the rough hewn stairs and Harry snorted and turned to Snape.

If I climb that I‘ll be useless once we‘re at the top.

It would be better if we do not show signs of weakness. Snape agreed, glancing up at the far off temple.

Harry glanced around until his eye fell on a small boulder, no larger than a pillow. He drew his wand and crouched down beside it. One whispered spell made it shift in it’s bed of moss. A second made it ring like a bell and with the third it flashed gold.

Harry sat on the stone, crossed his legs and laid his staff across his knees. The stone slowly rose into the air and hovered there, humming quietly. Snape almost looked impressed.

Would you be able to escape on that if events do not turn out in our favor?

Don’t bet on it. Harry began floating up the stairs, maintaining eye contact with his teacher. The spells I used were a very basic version of the ones used to make broomsticks. That should give you an approximate guide to how much control I have over this thing. Slow hovering is the best I can do.

They climbed the steps in silence for awhile, the cool wind whistling around the carved pillars. The land seemed desolate and deserted. Seemed.

We’re being watched. Harry noted the next time he caught Snape’s eye.

Of course we are.

Remind me what stops them from knifing us on the spot?

The possibility that we can give them more gold than they would earn by killing us.

And if it turns out we can‘t?

Snape didn‘t answer. Harry eased his wand in the band of his belt. This would be interesting. The final steps brought the rest of the temple into view. It seemed smaller now than it had before, not much larger than a modest house. It was surrounded by a simple garden, just flat grass and small pool. There weren‘t even any koi in the pool, just a very British frog. Harry didn’t know what he had been expecting. Cherry trees perhaps. But of course these men were assassins, they probably didn’t have much time for gardening.

Speak of the devil...

The painted door on the front of the temple opened and an older gentleman in a simple blue robe stepped out.

“We have been expecting you.” Was all he said. “Come inside. You must leave your shoes here.”

Harry lowered his rock to the floor with a clunk and raised himself to his feet. He unlaced his boots and left them there on the edge of the cliff before stepping towards the door. Snape put a restraining hand on his shoulder and Harry reluctantly let the older wizard lead. The doors were swung open for them and the old man led them through a short hallway.

The walls looked like... walls. They had warded them against magical methods of surveillance and apparently that included his eye. Was that intentional? Had his eye become common knowledge or had the warding always been there as a precaution. Harry tried not to give any sign that he was uncomfortable but for a man who had gotten used to twenty-four seven x-ray views the sudden lack was claustrophobic.

Get it together.

Harry followed Snape and their guide into a room at the side of the building. The false light of this mirror world streamed in through the large windows onto a table standing low on the floor. There was already a pot of tea and three empty cups waiting for them.

“If you would wait here.” The old guide said, indicating the table. “I will see if master Sasori is ready to speak to you.” He backed out of the room and closed the door behind him. Snape and Harry stepped towards the table and sat cross legged beside it. Neither so much as reached for the tea.

Sasori sounds Japanese. Harry noted. I thought the Lie Gou was based in China?

They accept initiates from many places. Snape’s voice was calm in Harry’s mind. And in any case it is almost certainly not his real name. Think no more of it, concentrate on learning what we can.

I’m trying, but my eye’s giving me nothing. Harry admitted to his companion. Have you learnt anything I should know about?

I think we are dealing with very intelligent people.

Not that intelligent. Not if they think we’re stupid enough to drink the tea.

I meant this building. Snape glanced around at the walls. I believe it is larger on the inside than on the outside in the manor of many wizards buildings. However a visitor who had only been shown these few rooms would leave thinking this temple no bigger than it appears.

When in reality whole armies could be housed here. Harry finished off the thought. How did you work that out?

There are certain signs. For someone familiar with this sort of enchantment.

I didn’t feel anything.

That is why you are still a student Harry. And why I am still your teacher. A faint smile tugged at Snape’s lips.

Well you’re not directly my teacher. Harry chuckled. Not unless you’ve begin accepting T grades into your NEWT class.

The door was opened quietly and both Harry and Snape’s eyes flashed no the new arrival. He was dressed in a suit, black and clean in every line, but Harry could see the knifes hidden in his sleeves. His grooming was every inch the businessman but he had broad tattoos on the backs of his hands, one a wheel of flames, the other a fox’s head. A portrait of incongruence. Nothing what it seemed. He was Japanese, Harry could see now, so at least the name wasn’t a total fake.

“Good evening.” The man spoke quickly and with firm self assurance. “My name is Sasori, and I am the leader of the Lie Gou in this part of the world. You are Severus Snape and Harry Potter. Welcome. I believe you had something to discus with me.” Sasori stepped up to the low table and sat quickly. Without waiting for them to speak he reached over and poured himself a small cup of green tea. Harry supposed that was supposed to put them at ease. Why the hell would it?

“We are here to pay you to drop one of your currently existing contracts.” Nothing about Snape was moving but his mouth.

“Our arrangement with Tomas Riddle?” Sasori spoke with his tea held up to his lips. “This is the contract you refer to?”

“Yes. We will pay you whatever the dark lord has offered and ten percent more besides. It is a serious offer. You know the gold we have available to us.” Snape indicated Harry with his arm. “In return you will not only cease your employment under Voldemort but you will also kill him and bring us both his head and that of his two remaining disciples.”

“You offer us that without knowing how much we are being offered already?” The assassin smiled. “You are so sure you can provide what you promise?”

“We have the riches of two ancient wizarding houses behind us. And more besides.”

“Yes.” Sasori tapped his finger against the edge of his small cup. “But I do not believe it will be enough.”

“What has the dark lord offered you?” Harry could sense Snape’s tension rising.

“I cannot tell you that.”

“Has he offered you something other than gold?”

“No. The Lie Gou have only ever worked for gold. Precious gems in exceptional circumstances. And once, just once, for the hand of a beautiful woman.” Sasori smiled. Snape did not.

“Would you prefer if I set a number?” Snape laid his hands on the table. “One million galleons.”

“Not nearly enough.” Sasori chuckled.

“Ten million.” Snape fixed the man across the table with a glare. “The current heirs to the Potter and Malfoy fortunes are surprisingly unworried about fiscal concerns. If ten million is unsatisfactory perhaps you should name your price.”

“Perhaps you should realize the meaning of the word no.” The man leant forward. “I am rejecting your offer Mr Snape. I do not mean to be harsh but, even if you could pay us more than him, we must honour our commitment to Mr Riddle. It would shame me to do less.”

Lies. Harry watched the assassins eyes as he stood. You don’t give a rat’s arse about honour. That ’shame me’ bull is just telling us what you think we expect to hear. Why are you lying? What else is going on here?

“You should both leave now.” Sasori stepped away towards the door. “No one will stop you on your way out.”

No one did. Which was even weirder.
*


“That didn‘t make any sense.” Harry commented once they were safely back to headquarters. “It was like he didn‘t want to give up the contract but didn‘t want us to know why.”

“I am more curious about why they simply let us leave.” Snape shook his head. “If the contract with the dark lord means so much to them they should have killed us.”

“Perhaps they weren‘t sure they could beat us?” Harry suggested. At Snape’s withering stare he shrugged. “Ok, so that was a stupid idea.”

“So we have another mystery.” Snape grimaced. “We have too many already.”

“Perhaps he‘s blackmailing them.” Harry said hopefully. “Or holding Sasori‘s wife/daughter/pet hamster hostage. There‘s obviously some reason why this job‘s so important to them.”

“Perhaps.” Snape nodded faintly. “The idea is worth investigating anyway, though he did not seem like a man with loved ones in danger. He seemed too calm.”

“He wasn‘t.” Harry growled. “His heart was running a little fast. He was nervous from the moment he stepped into the room. Concealed it well though. Bastard.”

“Could you tell if he was lying about anything?”

“I don‘t think he was.” Harry hazarded. “Heart rate isn‘t a hundred-percent judge of when someone‘s lying. It was weird, but it almost seemed like he was calmer once you started offering money.”

“Strange.”

“Whatever.” Harry rolled his eyes. “I haven't slept in a surprisingly long time. Unconsciousness doesn't count. I'm going to bed.”

“Wait one moment.” Snape waved Harry towards the room where he had set up his lab. “I need to check in on what has happened since we left and I believe you should hear it too.”

“Don't push yourself they says...” Harry grumbled as he followed after his teacher. “Don't be like you were last year they says. But when I want to sleep? Oh no-”

“Be quiet Harry.” Snape snapped as he pushed the door open. Natalies head rose from the table as they entered and she wordlessly pushed a folder towards Snape.

“Has anything of note happened?” Snape asked.

“You could read the file.”

“Your assessment will be more succinct.” Snape rubbed his temples. “The main points please.”

“The autopsy results have come back on the dead fighters. They were not zombies, or inferi. We don't know what they are. Their flesh is just rotting now, nothing living. We did find something unknown in their system but we cannot identify it.”

“And the dead Lie gou? The ones Ginerva found in the leaky cauldron?” Snape indicated a bloodstained knife with a tag tied around the handle.

“They were stabbed.”

“I gathered that.”

“They were poisoned first.” Natalie shook her head. “I believe the regime of potions they had been taken made them marginally resistant. The killer had to finish them off. Would you like to hazard a guess as to the poison used?”

“Everybody's friendly neighbourhood vigilante again?” Harry said from his position slouched on a chair. At Natalie's nod he chuckled. “Nice to know he's still out there.”

“It would be better if we could bring him in.” Snape fixed Harry with a stare.

“You want to arrest him?”

“I want to know how he created his poison.” Snape answered tonelessly. “I am sure it could cause even more damage in able hands.”

“You are so much cooler than Dumbledore.”

“But there seems to be no way to catch him.” Snape picked the knife up carefully with the tips of his fingers. “I assume there was nothing usable on this?”

“There was mud, sweat and hair.” Snape made no move to drop the knife despite Natalie's words. Harry's ears pricked up.

“It was his knife?” Harry asked quizzically. “I mean not found at the scene or stolen off a corpse? He brought it with him?”

“As far as we can tell yes.”

Harry stood, carefully took the blade from Snape's hands and folded it into a piece of parchment from the table.

“He has left evidence in his previous crimes.” Snape pointed out. “It has never amounted to anything before.”

“Before now,” Harry smiled. “You didn't have a seer.”
*


“Harry?”

“Yes Thea?”

“You're in my room.”

“Yes, that's true.”

“In the middle of the night.”

“This is also true.”

“The door was locked.”

“If you call that pesky charm a lock.” Harry grinned in the half-light. This was a game. It was fun. In a lot of ways it was better than sleep. “Don't you want to know why I came?”

“Can I guess?” Pythea arched an eyebrow, but a faint smile played on her lips.

“You can guess.” Harry shrugged. “You'll guess wrong but you can guess.”

“Really?” Thea leant forward to look into Harry's eyes. The faint light gave her a face a ghostly look, full of shadows. “You don't think I'll guess? What could you be here for?... In the middle of the night...”

Harry didn't say anything. He just chuckled.

“Why, why, why...” Thea leant closer, then smiled. “You want my help with something. You want me to try and see something for you.”

“Damnit.” Harry shook his head wryly, the spell broken. “You sure you can't read minds any more?”

“I often don't have to.” Pythea held out her hand. Harry reached into hie pocket and drew out the knife. “Interesting...” Pythea took it and held it on her lap.

“It was used to kill two of the Lie Gou.” Harry leant back on the armchair. “I though... I don't know... maybe you could find out who owned it or something. Skry for them or some mystic thing like that.”

“Harry go to sleep.” Thea was speaking quietly, her eyes still dreamily focussed on the knife in her hands.

“Sleep?”

“This will take awhile, and you're tired.” Thea stood up, her eyes still fixed. “Use the bed.”

“I can just sleep on a chair-”

“I need the chair. You take the bed.”

You don't need the chair. Harry rolled his eyes as he stood and moved over to the bed.

He fell asleep almost instantly, his mind trying to make up for the stress and exhaustion of the past few days. In his dreams he occasionally saw a white figure, chanting softly to something she was holding before her. Even in the dreams he knew what that was. Having an eye that could see through your own eyelids made for realistic dreaming. That was why he knew that she was done far before he eventually woke, the dawn light streaming in through the curtains.

“You didn't wake me.” Harry said, his eyes still closed.

“I thought you needed your sleep.”

“Like you needed the chair?” Harry opened his eyes and sat upright. On the table next to Pythea a rough map had been drawn on parchment. A small town, nestled in a valley. Further up the map was a delicate X. “The murderer's there?” Harry pointed.

“I do not think so Harry, it was very faint.” Pythea shook her head. “The knife lay there a long time before the murderer picked it up. The chances that he is still there are-”

“Low.” Harry pulled the rough sketch over to him. The name of the town was written at the bottom in Pythea's elegant hand. “Might as well check it out though, for lack of anything more constructive to do.”

“Do you want me to go with you?”

“It's a long shot at best.” Harry shrugged and pocketed the paper. “Besides, you were up all night. You need the bed now.” Harry stood and stepped towards the door. “I'll tell you if I find anything interesting.”

“Don't wake me.” Pythea's smile waved him out the door.
*


Harry reached the sleepy village and breathed fresh air. No one much was out yet, the sun hanging was still hanging mistily over the hills.

The map said that the knife came from north of the town. Harry set off in that direction, glad to at least have something constructive to do after all the confusion and chaos. A shopkeeper waved to him while at the same time squinting like he was an intruder. Harry waved back and carried on. The houses thinned out and Harry found himself walking along a country road, fields on either side. He checked his little sketch map again. It was somewhere east of the road.

Harry's eyes scanned the field and the trees beyond it. There was no path to speak of, just a sort of track that looked like it was used by rabbits more often than humans. Harry made for it warily and slowly climbed up through the trees, his walking stick digging into the mud. Harry's eye kept getting flashes from up ahead, through all the trees and life.

As he got closer he slowed down, silencing his footfalls. Between the trees were the ruins of a house. Not even a house, a shack. It was surrounded by bramble and almost consumed by the forest. Ivy covered every beam and wall. Without his eye Harry wasn't sure he would have seen it as a house at all.

Without his eye he also wouldn't have seen the man inside it.

Harry slid closer slowly. The man was crouched on the ground, shivering, his thin limbs shaking. Now that Harry was closer he could see the man for what he was, a wretch, he could barely see a shred of flesh on the man's bones. The thing that made up most of his weight was probably his hair and matted beard. It certainly wasn't in the tattered robes he was wearing. Harry scratched his head, wizards aged slower than muggles, so how old was this guy? He looked like he was older than Dumbledore had been.

“Sashias!” The man's head jerked up and he spun to look right at Harry through the wall of the building. “Sashias!”

What the? Harry jumped backwards and swiftly flung a disillusionment charm over himself. How had he known?

The man scuttled out of the house like a spider and his eyes flashed from one spot to another like an animal.

“Sassicz.”

Harry tried to move away slowly, trying not to disturb any leaves.

“Saz!” The man leant down to the ground and held out his hand. Some... thing slithered out of his sleeve.

It took Harry a moment to realize what he was seeing. It was a snake, small and grey and not much longer than a ruler. But then, it wasn't, it was nothing. Nothing was there but a wisp of curling grey smoke. Harry realized what it was. Only one of his eyes was seeing the snake. To the other it would be just a shadow. To any normally sighted person... the snake would be invisible.

Harry stepped to the side but the snake made for him, slowly undulating it's way through the leaves. Harry stepped again, and the snake changed direction. Making for him like a bloodhound. Harry''s mind threw up little memories of an undiscovered and deadly toxin and stepped away more quickly. The snake kept after him, implacable death. Harry took a deep breath, time to take control.

“Please call off your snake.” Harry said, calmly and simply, trying to sound a little like Dumbledore. “I am a friend.”

The man's head shot up and the snake froze in the grass. Harry dropped his camouflage and addressed old man directly.

“I am a friend. We both fight Voldemort. Please call off the snake.”

“Sissisi. ” The man's eyes widened. “Saz, cizissi.”

The snake didn't move, it seemed to be eyeing Harry as sharply as it's master was.

“Zaccussazic!”

“I can't understand you.” Harry tried to keep calm. “You are speaking... you're speaking in parseltounge aren't you? I need you to speak English.”

“Sisss...sss....”

“My name is Harry.” Harry started again. “What is yours?”

“Name...” The first English word from the old man's lips was guttural and raspy. “Name...”

“Yes, your name. What is it?”

“Important.”

“It is important.”

“Father said it was important.” The decrepit man's brow furrowed. “Said it was sissica all we had.”

“Yes.” Harry tried to breath. “So what is it?”

“Forgot so much.” Rotted teeth were ground together in anger. “Made to cossuza! Made to loose it all!”

“Please-”

“Riddle did it!” The old man spat. “Riddle did it to me!”

“I understand.” Harry tried to calm the crazy man, keeping one eye on the snake. “He's hurt me too. We're on the same side here.”

“I want to kill him!”

“So do I, or failing that dismember.”

“He took my mind!”

“I see that. Believe me.”

“But I remembered!” The man pointed a gnarled finger at his head. “Out on the rock... out on Azkaban rock. He was there zassiz! Broke it open. I saw his face. I remembered!”

“What. Is. Your. Name.”

“My name?” The man snapped back to the present his eyes fixing on Harry. “My name?”

“Yes.”

“Morfin Gaunt.”
________________________________________




If you do not review then all the snow that has brought Britain to a standstill today (and coincidently frozen by bloody fingers) will be transported directly into your living room.

________________________________________
Harry sat cross-legged on the floor of the tiny hut and looked across at the wizened figure before him. It had taken oven an hour of teasing little nuggets of information from the man in front of him but now he thought he finally had the whole story. Unbelievable as it was.

In a way it was hard to believe that the wizened wretch in front of him, sitting stroking his pet snake 'Smokey' and mumbling faintly, was Voldemort's uncle. Actually re-examining that sentence it was all too easy. Harry tried to remember that this man was a crazy murdering vigilante, a man who had set his snake on people who were already unconscious. His mind was probably irredeemably broken and fried to insanity by his long stay in Azkaban, plus the mind-flay Voldemort had worked on him. At least the false memories were gone now, broken when he saw Voldemort crush the prison. Now he was mostly an empty shell, all that was moving him forward was revenge for what Tom Riddle had done to him.

Harry was currently trying to do two things, the first was think of what to do about the situation. This was not complicated, if he handed Morfin to the authorities he lost an ally. If he didn't it was only a matter of time until someone died who didn't deserve to. But if he handed him to Snape he had the best of both worlds. So that was that. The second thing he was trying to do was think of how to snatch the gold box under the floorboards without Morfin noticing. It was warded too heavily too be Morfin's work, and it was too recent to be the last residents. Which meant it was probably the slithery dark lord.

“Morfin,” Harry started slowly. “You can't stay here. You said yourself that Voldemort knows about this place, if he ever figured out it was you this would be the first place he'd look.”

“This is my home...” Morfin murmured, still looking at his pet snake.

“Is it more important than revenge?”

“Where would I go?” Now he was holding the serpent like a lifeline. “Where could I...”

“I know one place.” Harry stood and gestured out the door. “I'll need to sneak you to a flue point, you can sneak right-”

“Apparate.” Morfin unfolded like a paper spring.

“You can apparate?”

“Yes.”

“Hmm...” Harry's eyes narrowed. Perhaps this man could be useful after all.
*


Harry got Morfin settled into one of the abandoned houses he had used during his vagrant months the previous year before doubling back to the shack. He carefully sliced away the floorboards and lifted them away without touching them.

Beneath was the box. He couldn't see inside it, but if someone went to this much trouble to hide something it had to be important. Harry waved his wand to reveal the protections on it and a myriad of flickering webs surrounded the little box. One or two he recognised, most he did not. Harry whistled admiringly (got to admire fine work wherever it comes from) and got to work.

In the end it took till dusk, long shadows making the trees outside loom larger. Harry did one final sweep to check there were no other curses on the box, then flicked it open with the tip of his wand. Inside lay a ring, tarnished gold set with a black stone. Harry ran another test on it and more hours crawled by as he removed the second layer of protection before dropping it into his bag.

Various muscles complained about his prolonged lack of movement as he lifted himself off the floor and levitated the boards back into place. He had done it. But what to do now? Last year he would have kept this secret, secluded himself in some far off corner until he had sorted out the mysteries of this strange object. Harry shook his head, shouldn't let himself fall into that again. Shouldn't. Besides, if he handed the ring to Snape there was a chance he could get some sleep.
*


“That is an unbelievable story.” Snape had his eyes fixed on the ring on the table between them. “I do not doubt you but...”

“I can take you to meet Morfin if you like.”

“No doubt I will meet him soon enough. I am more interested in this ring.”

“Is it Voldemort's?”

“I have never seen him wearing it.” Snape waved his hand through the air over the ring. “Magic sometimes leaves traces. If it was his, in time I shall know.”

“Great, I'll leave it with you for now then.” Harry stood and brushed his hair out of his eyes.

“Where are you going?”

“Well first I'm going to eat whatever that is I can smell cooking, then I'm going to fall asleep. Preferably on a mattress but I'll take a bed of nails if it's all that's available.” Harry turned and walked out of Snape's lab, letting his nose lead the way.

His cane clicked on the tiles as he walked towards the kitchen but he slowed as he got closer. Raised voices could be heard within. Harry pushed the door open quietly and slid inside. By the stove a wizard with long ginger hair tied in a pony-tail was arguing with a shorter haired one. Harry recognised that one as Percy and, from description, the other one as Bill Weasley. Beside they a frying pan was lying forgotten, bacon burning inside.

On the table nearby Ron and Ginny were huddled, they seemed to be trying to ignore the argument behind them. Harry sidled up to them and slid in beside.

“What's going on?” Harry asked while surreptitious levitating the bacon out of the pan. “Those are your brothers aren't they.”

“Yes.” Ginny glanced behind her before looking away.

“What are they arguing over?”

“Us.” Ginny shook her head. “Because mum and dad are in hospital and they... they aren't getting out soon the ministry says we need a guardian. Bill came here because he thinks it should be him but...”

“Percy disagrees?” Harry caught the burnt rashers out of the air and crunched one into his mouth. “Don't you get a say?”

“Apparently not.” Ginny shrugged. Ron just grunted, his head still bowed.

“They need stability!” Percy was yelling from over by the stove. “They need someone with a good job and a good home here in Britain!”

“I have a job!” Bill snarled back. “One that pays more than yours.”

“For how long?” Percy snapped. “Gringots fired six of it's human employees just last week. Some people think they're cleaning house.”

“And what is that supposed to mean-”

Harry stopped listening. He levitated two eggs out of a basket and cracked them into the pan.

“Does it matter who they pick?” Harry asked his friends. “I mean, I don't have a guardian and I'm aright. Draco doesn't have a guardian. Pythea doesn't have a guardian. Why do they care whether you do?”

“You don't get it Harry.” Ginny shook her head. “You just don't.”

“Guess not.” Harry shrugged. “Anyway's, we're all going to Hogwarts in a few days, it won't matter then.”

“I hope not.” Ron said quietly. “I hope not.”

Harry shook his head. Ginny was right, he didn't understand. Harry summoned his eggs and bit into them. Families eh? They didn't make any sense at all.
*


Returning to Hogwarts felt strange. The castle and the magical places around it had always felt like they were a separate world. You got on the train at Kings Cross and somehow entered a magical bubble that you couldn't leave except at Holidays. But in the last year Harry had found that the bubble was like swiss cheese, he could leave any time he wanted.

It was sad to lose the illusion. Ah well...

There was something else that was gone as well. The curse on the defence against the dark arts post was apparently gone. Markus Michelson was still there, officially to teach but Harry knew he was now part of the order. The first thing Harry did was ask for special training, for him and all the marauders. They would need it.

Outside Hogwarts the wizarding world was curling up into it's shell like a snail. The massive attack on Diagon alley seemed to be too much for people, they were too scared. There were no more attacks like the first but Voldemort's dead men had been seen all over the country. Spreading fear wherever they went. Yes... they definitely needed to train.

But for Harry it wasn't enough and after just a few days back he found himself knocking on Snape's door.

“Harry.” Snape raised an eyebrow as the door opened. “You are no longer in any of my classes.”

“I know. I bet you miss the explosions.”

“What do you want Harry?”

“Have you made any progress with the ring?”

“No.”

“How about with the Lie Gou?”

“Inquiries are continuing.”

“And about Voldemort?”

“I will let you know if anything important happens.”

There was a drawn out moment of silence.

“Is there... anything I can do?” Harry asked.

“I would like you and your friends to continue training with Markus.” Snape said flatly.

“To fight?”

“As a last resort.”

“So basically you're telling me to sit still and shut up?” Harry folded his arms. “Come on Snape. I can be useful. I'm wasted here! I could do more.”

“Can think of something specific that you could be doing?”

“Looking for Voldemort!”

“Where?”

“Everywhere!”

“Peering under every rock?” Snape said sarcastically. “Wouldn't you be wasted doing that?”

“I found the Lie Gou didn't I?” Harry said pointedly.

“By talking to the underworld.” Snape shook his head. “Voldemort will not be hiding where petty thieves can find him.”

“I need to do something!”

“There is nothing to be done.” Snape snapped. “Currently all you are doing is wasting my time... wait.”

“Yes?”

“If you want to help with something...” Snape stepped back into his office, then returned with a hand outstretched. “Work on this.”

The ring glittered in his hand.

“Aren't you working on it?” Harry reached out and took the ring, looking at it quizzically.

“I can divine no more from it.” Snape's voice carried an edge of frustration. “There is something still there it just.... I do not know. You have shown an affinity for puzzles. Why don't you try to divine it's secrets? If nothing else it will keep you out of trouble.” With that Snape turned and pulled his door shut, leaving a puzzled Harry behind.
*


Despite the fact that the task had been given to him only to shut him up Harry attacked it with fervour. He tried every revealing spell he knew on the ring but nothing registered. The only time he got any clue that it was anything other than metal and stone was one time when, in a fit of irritation, he put it on. He had felt so strange that he had slammed it back in the box and not looked at it for a day. It had felt like someone was watching him, little prickles down his spine. He hadn't tried to wear it again but had done a whole book's worth of clairvoyance detection spells on it. Nothing happened.

“Maybe it's not magical?” Neville suggested over breakfast. “Maybe Voldemort wanted to keep it for some other reason.”

“It's magical all right.” Harry had his head slumped down on his arms, staring at the ring in the middle of the table. “I can feel it.”

“Harry you're getting obsessed.” Padma rolled her eyes.

“I'm not obsessed! I just can't think of anything else!”

“Leave him alone.” Ron shook his head. “We know the ring belonged to Voldemort, so it must be important. Can't just ignore-”

“That's it!” Harry sat bolt upright. “It was Voldemort's!”

“But Harry we knew that.” Hermione said quizically.

“What I meant was it doesn't matter what spell's on it.” Harry explained. “We know Voldemort owned it. So Thea can use it to scry for him, maybe find out where he's hiding.”

“That's a long shot Harry.” Padma said. “Don't you think Voldemort would have protected himself against that kind of thing?”

“Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe he's too weak.” Harry stuffed the ring into it's box and stood up. “Do you know where Pythea is this morning?”

“I think she was doing some work for the order. In her apartments.”

“Really?” Harry's eye swivelled up in his head. “Ah, I see her.” Harry took off out of the great hall. He hurried up to the Hogwarts guest quarters and knocked.

“Come in Harry.”

Harry smiled and opened the door. Pythea was sat at the small table in the middle of the room, maps splayed out in front of her. One of the maps had little blue pins stuck in it. Harry wondered what the order was having her do, try to predict where the Lie Gou would strike no doubt. Or trying to find Voldemort.

“You weren't at breakfast.” Harry pulled up a chair and sat down next to the seer. “Your loss. There was porridge.”

“I had a meeting with several order members last night. It ran on quite late.” Pythea sighed tiredly.

“Why is it you get meetings with order people and I don't.” Harry cracked a smile. “I mean we're basically the same age.”

“I do not believe they realise that.” Pythea smiled.

“They're not working you too hard are they?”

“No Harry. I'm fine.”

“Cos I can take over some of the workload if you like.”

“Are you a seer?”

“No, but I can make it up. Isn't that what you do?” Harry chuckled.

“No.”

“Or we could get Trewalny to cover for you!”

“Do you want to send order members to their death?” Pythea laughed and Harry chuckled. Pythea became serious again and leant in towards Harry. “What was it you came here for?”

“I can't just come to visit you?”

“Just ask me.”

“Ok, fine.” Harry rolled his eyes and slid the ring out of his pocket.

“Harry...” Pythea raised her eyebrows. “We're both a little young to marry.”

“Are you sure?” Harry chuckled. “I'm rich, quite rich.”

“No you're not. Harry Potter is rich, you're draining his bank account.”

“Potato potato.” Harry paused. “That phrase doesn't work so well in print. Not even with italics.”

“Stop breaking the fourth wall and tell me what this ring is.” Pythea took the ring out of Harry's hand and raised it to her eyes. “There is some symbol on it.”

“It's from some nutzo myth.” Harry snorted. “The important thing is that this ring belonged to Voldemort.”

“And you want me to use it to find him?” Pythea shook her head. “The dark lord will certainly have protected his hiding place from scrying.”

“I just need something.” Harry pleaded. “He did this ring really carefully, lots of enchantments. It obviously matters to him somehow. I just need to know why. Give me something.”

“I will try Harry. But I can not promise anything.” Pythea held the ring in both her hands and closed her eyes. “You should get to your lessons Harry. This could take a while.”

“Lessons?”

“The things you go to school for.”

“Oh right! Them.” Harry stood and turned to the door. “I'll check back after class. Or before, if I get bored.”

Harry slid in late into his double defence class. It didn't matter too much, the marauders were working to a different curriculum. He joined the rest of them and took his place on the duelling line. He glanced at Draco opposite him and noted the deep bags under his eyes and his slouched posture. Full moon last night. He should have remembered.

“How was it?” Harry asked.

“Horrendously painful. Like before.” Draco grated dryly. “What did you think?”

“That it would be roses and kittens and barrels of candy.” Harry raised his wand. “You know I won't go easy on you.”

“Great.” Draco shuddered. “Bloody wonderful.”

Harry didn't go easy on him. It would have been insulting. After the class Draco went to find a bath of ice to lie in and Harry went back to Pythea's quarters. He knocked and pushed the door open.

“Any progress?” Harry asked the little seer.

“No Harry.” Pythea shook her head. “I could not find anything.”

“Are you sure?” Harry slouched dejectedly. “Nothing? Not even why he hid it?”

“Lord Voldemort protected himself too well.” Pythea shook her head. “I could find nothing.”

“Damnit.” Harry scratched his head. “I really hoped... well never mind.”

“I will keep trying.” Pythea stood, her hands folded in her sleeves in front of her. “If I find anything I will tell you at once.”

Harry froze. Twisted tendrils of fear grew around his heart. He had seen...

“You're wearing the ring.” Harry stated flatly.

“Yes.” Pythea responded without missing a beat. “To obtain a better connection.”

“Take it off.” Harry slid around the table with his hand out.

“Harry you are being irrational.”

“Please take the ring off Thea.” Harry tried to sound calm. He failed. “Just take it off. Please.”

“There is really no need.”

“Humour me.”

“You are worried over nothing.”

“If it's nothing take it off.”

“If I wear it at all times I may see something I missed.”

“Just take the freekin ring off Thea!” Harry stepped towards her. “Please take it off!”

“No.” Pythea took her hands out of her sleeves. Her voice was like ice. “I will not.”

“Oh... crap.” Harry froze, his hand hovering over the pocket where he kept his wand. “You're not Thea any-more are you?”

“You seem unsettled Harry.” Pythea smiled thinly. “Is there some sort of problem?” Pythea's hands were raising slowly. Harry twitched towards his wand. The hands stopped moving.

“You're Voldemort. Somehow you're Voldemort.” Harry had looked into the snake faced bastard's eyes enough times to recognise him staring back. “The ring was... was like the diary.”

“You found my diary?” Voldemort raised one dainty eyebrow. “That is disappointing. But no matter, even if the diary was destroyed I still survive and this... this body will do nicely.”

“You're a freak who keeps trying to possess young girls.” Harry tried to edge his hand closer to his wand. Voldemort's eyes snapped to his hand. Harry stopped. “Just let her go.”

“No.”

“You will let her go.” Harry's teeth ground together. “Or so help me I will make whatever life you have full of pain.”

“Threats?” Voldemort smiled again. “You cannot threaten me. Any harm you do to me hurts the girl. You could never hurt someone you care about-”

“Wrong.” Harry slammed his fist forward into his face. Voldemort fell backwards but Harry had already grabbed his arms and slammed them behind his back. Lightning flashed from his fingers to the floorboards, bathing the room in white light. Flames burst out of nowhere and Harry could barely hold onto the writhing figure in his arms.

“Karziet!” Harry threw them both to the side as every piece of glass in the room exploded. Harry felt shards bite into his face and hands but he held on grimly. He had to get that ring off! He reached for it but a black orb exploded out of Voldemorts thin hands, taking the end of his finger off.

“Stop bloody moving!” Harry slammed Voldemort onto the table and grabbed desperately for the ring, tearing it off his finger and flinging it into the fire.

Pythea instantly stopped moving, lying against the table. Harry slowly released her arms and looked into her face. Her nose was gushing blood freely (his fault), and her eyes were squeezed shut.

“Thea?” Harry whispered into her ear. “It's alright. The ring's gone. It's alright.”

“I'm so sorry.” Thea murmured, her eyes still shut. “I'm so sorry.”

“It's ok.” Harry drew his wand and sprayed a thick stream of water over the burning room before turning back to Pythea. “Are you ok? I mean are... are you ok?”

“He got into my head.” Pythea was shuddering, still not moved from her position sprawled on the table. “The harder I pushed into it the more he had me.”

“I'm so sorry.” Harry stepped forward and enveloped Pythea in a hug. “I should have never given it too you, I should never-”

“No! It's my fault. I should have been more careful.” Pythea opened her eyes and raised her hand to brush Harry's face. “I'm sorry.”

“It was my fault.”

“I tried to kill you!”

“Voldemort did. Not you.” Harry pulled her closer to him. “But it's alright now.”

They stayed there like that for a while. The room smelt like sodden ashes but neither of them wanted to move. Finally Harry pulled back and smiled.

“Come on, we'd better get you to Madam Pomfrey. She'll have to un-break your nose.” Harry shook his head. “Sorry I had to hit you so hard.”

“You always choose the most direct solution to any problem. That is part of your charm.” Pythea leant forward and kissed him lightly on his bloodstained forehead. Harry could feel a shard of glass move under her lips, when she moved back it fell out, clinking onto the table between them. Harry's heart skipped about a million beats.

“We should get you to Madam Pomfrey too.” Pythea said breathlessly. “You taste of blood.”
*


Harry left the seer in the hospital wing and made straight for Snape's office. He entered without knocking.

“Harry.” Snape's head snapped up from his desk. “I heard you managed to injure yourself again.”

“It had been too long since I had to grow flesh back.” Harry reached into his bag and brew out the box with the ring in it, dropping it onto the desk. In short sentences he explained what had happened. When he was finished Snape leant back, gazing at the ring thoughtfully.

“Anyway I think it's like the diary.” Harry sighed. “I'm sorry Professor. I should have seen it.”

“How precisely should you have seen it? On the surface the items have no resemblance to one another.” Snape said disparagingly.

“I just... If I had seen it sooner Pythea wouldn't have-”

“I despise misplaced guilt Potter. You have never displayed it before so do not start now.” Snape picked up the ring's box with his long fingers. “Your experience tells us something. Now I merely have to work out what.”

“That easy huh?” Harry asked wryly.

“Easier than it was before.” Snape looked like he was about to say something else but the door was pushed open. Lucy Kindston was on the other side, plainly out of breath.

“Harry, you need to get to the Hospital wing.”

“I was just there.”

“Well you need to get back.”

“Wh...” Harry's eyes widened. “Thea?...”

“Just go Harry.”

Harry's heart was beating fast as he bolted out the door.
________________________________________


If you don't review then your computer screen becomes like that bit in the ring where the girl comes out and kills you. Except instead of a girl it's a cat. Seriously. Have you ever seen a long haired cat totally bedraggled and hissing and screaming and flying out of your screen? Not good. And if you have high-def... it's twenty meters tall.

________________________________________
“Why aren't you doing anything.” Harry had his fingers gripped tightly around the bar at the foot of the bed.

“There isn't anything we can do Harry.” Madam Pomfrey said quietly. “We don't know what is wrong with her.”

“Then why aren't you looking.” Harry snarled. He couldn't look away from the bad in front of him. Lying on it, her skin deathly pale, lay Pythea. “Why aren't you doing something? Her heart's getting slower.”

“You can't know that Har-”

“HOW MANY EYES DO I HAVE!”

“I... Harry please.” Madam Pomfrey shook her head. “There is nothing I can do. Professor Snape is trying to-”

“He's failing. He won't find anything.” Harry snarled. “There's nothing on that god damn ring!”

“Then there is nothing that can be done.”

“I just need to do something!” Harry shuddered with nervous energy.

“Until we know what the ring did to her we cannot fix it.”

“Then...” Harry breathed. “Then we need something that fixes everything!”

“Harry nothing like that exis- Where are you going!”

Harry stomped out of the hospital wing as fast as his injured leg would carry him and barged past the clustered marauders.

“Where are you going Harry?” Ginny yelled at his retreating back.

“Out.”

“We should come with you to-”

“No.” Harry snapped as he tried to put some distance between himself and his friends. Unfortunately none of them were down a leg and could keep up with him easily.

“Harry this is for Pythea isn't it?”

“No. I'm going for a walk in the park with the fluffy bunny rabbits.”

“Harry let us help you!”

“Go away you bloody-”

“You promised you wouldn't do this any more Harry.” Neville broke in suddenly. Harry froze. He had.

“I did.” Harry turned slowly. “Does anyone know how to climb mountains?”
*


“Harry where are we?” Hermione panted.

“Mountain.” Harry barked as he stabbed his hiking pole into the ground and stomped on. Beside him the gaunt shape of Morfin shook in what could have been a silent chuckle.

“She meant specifically.” Lucy Kingston was up ahead, the only one of them who seemed to be actually enjoying the climb. “Those buildings down there look like we're somewhere in the middle east?”

“Turkey.” Harry winced as he slipped on the loose rocks and had to catch himself on his pole. “North Anatolian. That's where we are specifically. Where we are relatively is 'Not high enough'”

“Where are we headed to Harry?” Lucy squinted up at the snowy peaks ahead. “What are we trying to find?”

“You'll see by nightfall.” Harry tried to ignore the stabbing pain in his leg as he forced himself higher and higher. “We need to be at the snowline by the time it gets dark or we won't see them.”

“I hope you don't want to get to the top Harry.” Hermione was still trailing. “We don't have any oxygen or proper clothing.”

“Not to the top.” Harry glanced up. “Probably. Anyway I thought you'd climbed before?”

“In Wales, with my parents. Hiking a little.” Hermione glanced down the long trail they had followed. “Not like this.”

“Well you volunteered so live with it. I'm having a worse time of it than you.” Harry glanced up ahead and shook his head. “The path's blocked with rocks this way. We need to go... that way. For a while at least. Then we can track back, along the ridge.”

“What ridge?”

“You can't see it yet. It's past the cliff.” Harry pointed with his stick. “Looks like we have to scramble just for a bit then it's a good path. Keep up that... then... over past that cliff...” Harry trailed off, the other two marauders were looking at him strangely. “I can see because of the eye. You knew that.”

“What's it like?” Lucy asked quietly.

“You get used to it. Like walking around seeing double, except one of the doubles is see through. Makes you dizzy when you spin too fast.” Harry paused for a moment to catch a breath. “Come on... we've got a long way to go and Thea's dying.”

They hiked up into the snowline, Harry didn't let them stop until they could see snow on all four sides. When they could he cleared a circle around them and heated the ground so they would be warm.

“Why don't we just have a fire?” Lucy sat down cross legged on the ground.

“Because then we won't be able to see.” Morfin chuckled darkly.

“He's right. You're going to need to see in the dark and you won't with a fire right next to you.” Harry smiled slyly. “I can only look in one direction and I'm not taking chances.”

Harry sat down, looking in another direction and waited. Slowly it got darker and darker. At least the moon was out, that helped a little. Now all they had to do was watch...

“What are we waiting for?” Hermione asked quietly in the darkness.

“Fire. Look for fire.”

“Oh...!” Hermione's eyes opened wide with shock. “Are we looking for-”

“Yes. Now concentrate and keep looking.”

“Have you ever been there before-”

“No.” Harry glared out into the darkness, waiting for a sign. The night air grew colder and colder... whispering past the four seated figures. Morfin was muttering something in parseltounge up his sleeve. Harry wondered for a moment if he had been right to bring him. No... of course he had to. Without someone to apparate them it would have taken them ages to get up this high. Couldn't apparate the rest of the way though. Funny things happened if you tried.

“There!” Lucy pointed off into the distance. “I saw a flash, like a firework.”

Harry turned and squinted off in the direction she was pointing. His eye zoomed in to it's fullest and...

“That's it. Good show.” Harry stood and lit his wand. A spark in the darkness. “Come on.”

“We're going there now?” Lucy shook her head. “You want to travel around in these mountains at night!”

“By morning it'll have moved.” Harry explained. “And besides, it isn't night for me.”
*


Harry started off into the black, with Morfin following silently. Hermione looked at Lucy and gulped, before lighting her wand and following them into the murk. It was a terrifying journey, following Harry's unwavering path across the tops of cliffs and along scree filled paths in the dead of night. Hermione kept telling herself it was for Pythea, for Harry's friend. She even tried to look forward to the site they would see at the end. But it wasn't enough to counter the fear.

Every rock that skipped away from her feet sounded like a crack of thunder.

Ahead of her she could hear the strange man Morfin muttering, behind were the steady, solid tramp of Lucy's boots. Occasionally the girl behind her would reach out and lay a steadying hand on her shoulder, making her jump. Hermione was grateful for the gesture, she just wished Lucy would give her some warning.

“This is it.” Harry's voice was like a knife through the blackness. Up ahead she could see him crouching beside a rough crack in the rock, just large enough to fit a man. As she watched the inside flashed like there was an explosion deep inside, but it faded again in a moment. Hermione breathed deeply, trying to keep calm.

“Nervous?” Harry asked quizzically. “Don't be. After all we're a group of teenagers going into a spooky cave in the middle of the mountains in the dead of night with a mass murderer. What could possibly happen?”

In the dark, Morfin grinned like a tiger.

“Harry...” Lucy narrowed her eyes. “Stop that.”

“You've got nothing to worry about.” Harry grinned. “They'll even be other wizards inside. Come on, lets get to it. I want to back in Hogwarts by morning.”

Harry slid into the crease in the rock and dissipated from view. Hermione steeled herself, then ducked in after him. The cave was really more of a tunnel, crawling forwards in a straight line. Of course what it really was was probably some sort of magic doorway that connected two different places entirely. Hermione found herself looking at the walls to try to see the joins. Up ahead the flashes were becoming more frequent and a steady red glow was growing between them. Hermione felt excitement grow, she was really going to see it... really going to...

“We're here.” Harry stepped out of the tunnel ahead of her, giving her a full view as she pulled herself out of the rock. Her mouth dropped open as she saw what lay before them...

“Merlin's... something!” Before them the cave opened up into a deep valley, like an axe wound in the side of the mountain. Towering walls rose up on either side of them craggy and full of more caves and pits. In the small strip of ground in the middle there was a grove of what looked like olive trees twisty and ancient like they were older than the mountain itself. But that wasn't the most amazing thing. Flying above them in great sweeping curves, and nesting in the rock... hundreds of them... filling the valley with fiery light and making the whole place fool like a living fireworks display. Filling the valley with song, and the echoes of song...

“Phoenixes.” Lucy Kingston breathed in wonder. “You brought us to the nesting ground.”

“Yep.” Harry nodded. “Since we don't know what Thea's got we need something that heals almost everything. Phoenix tears is a good bet.”

“They don't cry for just anyone Harry.” Lucy pointed out. “Otherwise every hospital in the world would have gallons on the stuff.”

“There's at least one that'll cry for me. Fawkes.” Harry squinted up into the brilliant flaming sky. “We just need to find him.”

“Easier said than done.”

“Why don't you two ask.”

Ask? Hermione scratcher her head. It was only when Harry pointed that she realised they were not alone in the valley. Down by the trees there was a group of four wizards clustered around a tent, one of them was looking through a telescope while another was jotting down notes in a large heavy book. Further down the valley, on a flat table shaped rock that jutted out of the leaves, was another group. These wizards were all in black robes and were clustered around a weird bird shaped idol. They were down on their knees and seemed to be chanting.

Worshippers. Hermione realised. Worshippers and researchers.

“Why don't you handle the nerds.” Harry pointed at Hermione first, then turned to Lucy. “And you handle the wierdos. It'll go round and and see what I can spy with my little eye.”

“And me?” Morfin cracked his neck.

“You stay with me.” Harry turned to walk off.

Hermione shared another look with Lucy before they began picking their way down towards the trees. Even though she knew that a girl's life was at stake Hermione couldn't help but feel awe and wonder at this place. Going off in the at the drop of a hat, climbing mountains and visiting amazing magical sites. Was this what Harry's life was like all the time?

Below her one of the researchers looked up and noticed her. He rolled his eyes and started towards her.

“Please don't disturb the birds. Try to not use flash photography, they can confuse it with an attack. If you're camping please don't play loud music-”

“We're not tourists.” Hermione held her hands up.

“Oh, then you'll be with the other weird bast- believers.” The researcher pointed back into the trees.

“I'm not-”

“Mind the bonfires and the flayed goats.”

“I'm not one of them!” Hermione said in exasperation. “We're here to get-”

“Ah, you're here to get Phoenix tears. The other reason people come up hers.” The man rubbed his forehead. “Let me guess your friend or your mother or your boyfriend is sick and you think tears are the only cure. I hate to tell you this but-”

“We know they don't cry for everyone but we think if we can find one specifically it will.”

“Really?” The researcher finally looked slightly interested. He glanced up at the cliff where Harry was just visible edging up a thin path, peering into cliffs. Several Phoenixes had begun following him interestedly, hopping from rock to rock eyeing him with beady eyes. “Who are you guys anyway?”

“Well that's Harry Potter, and we're his friends.” Hermione smiled at the shocked look that appeared on the researchers face. His three friends looked up too, forgetting their notes for a moment. Hermione felt like kicking herself, of course she should have said that first. “We're looking for a phoenix called Fawkes.”

“We... we don't record names. How could we? The phoenixes don't talk.” The man kept glancing up at the cliff where the shadowy figure of Harry had gone out of site into a cave. Another phoenix flew over to join the small flock that was following him. “We don't record names I don't... I don't know if we can help.”

“He would have come here during summer last year, he left England in June.” Hermione explained. “When he left Hogwarts he looked like he was in his third month since a burning day so when he reached you he might have been in his fourth or fifth.. He's a male, with a wingspan slightly above average.”

“I... we'll check.” The researcher turned and hurried over to their workbench where he cracked open a heavy book of notes and began flicking through them. Hermione followed him and began reading over his shoulder. Everything was recorded, burnings, arrivals, odd behaviour. If Fawkes was in the valley he would be recorded here somewhere.

“What about that?” Hermione pointed suddenly at an entry hear the middle of the page. “That one fit's the time frame.”

“Y... yes. Yes.” The researcher nodded. “Phoenix number 713. It would be that one wouldn't it.” The heavy book was slammed closed and the man turned towards the cliff wall. “I'll take you there.”

Hermione set off following, sending micos to Harry and Lucy. She and her guide reached the cliff wall and began climbing up a thin winding path. Lucy caught up to them when she was halfway up.

“You found him?” Lucy was out of breath. Hermione nodded. “Good, those other wizards were weird.”

They climbed further up around the rocks, passing many perching phoenixes. The birds eyed them as they passed, but did not follow. After a few minutes they reached a short ledge with a large cave.

“This is 713's nest.” The researcher pointed into the rock. “He should be in there. But it looks like you friend found him first.”

All around the edge of the ledge, phoenix were perched, looking in. None of them were singing, none of them were making any sound at all above the rustling of their feathers. They were just watching. Another flew in and alighted at the end of the row. It trilled softly, then went silent like it's brethren.

“I've never seen them do this.” The researcher said softly. His hands twitched like he was looking for a notepad. Hermione steeled herself, and stepped into the cave.

It opened out in the back into a small dome, the floor littered with sticks and leaves. The remains of past nests. Morfin was crouched at the back, he made no move when they entered. He was staring at the same thing they were. The tableau in the centre of the cave.

Harry was down on his knees, his walking stick discarded beside him. His eyes level with the eyes of the phoenix in front of him. He wasn't moving or speaking either, the only sign that he was alive was the slow rise and fall of his chest. The phoenix, Fawkes, was shivering. A large part of it's back was bald and scabby and it's wings looked shredded. There were feathers all around it, an unnatural moulting, and it's head drooped on it's long neck.

“713's been like this for a while.” The researcher said quietly. “That's why I said I knew it'd be him. He hasn't burned since he got here and he's due. Long overdue. If he doesn't burn before winter hits then...”

“What happens if a phoenix doesn't burn?” Lucy asked softly.

“We don't really know. That's part of the reason we're watching him.”

“Could he...” Hermione swallowed. “If he goes for long enough without a burning day could he... die?”

“It's possible.” The researcher answered sadly. “We don't think it's ever happened before. The other phoenixes have been avoiding this cave, up till now at least. It's very interesting behaviour, I was thinking of writing a paper on-”

“Shh! Something's happening.” Lucy pointed towards the centre of the cave.

Without moving from his spot, Harry had reached out his arm and was slowly stroking the side of Fawkes' head. The golden bird trembled for a moment, then leant it's head into Harry's hand, cooing softly. Harry reached back with his other hand into his bag and came back with a small glass bottle. He held it carefully to the side of the phoenix's face.

Everyone in the cave watched, awed, as first one shiny tear dropped into the glass. Then another. All the while Harry kept stroking Fawkes' head with his fingers, and kept eye contact. Another drop in the glass. Another. The glass slowly filled to the brim with glittering liquid before finally Harry took it away and carefully capped it.

Fawkes collapsed out of Harry's hands, dropping onto it's rough nest. It was as if the emotion had been too much for it. Fawkes just lay there as Harry put a quick sealing charm on the tears and turned to the marauders.

“It's done.”

“Harry how did you do that?” Hermione asked, wide eyed.

“We talked. About old times.” Harry shrugged. “He's lonely.”

“I wonder if phoenixes could fight those dead men Voldemort has.” Lucy mused. “That could be really useful.”

“Phoenixes don't fight for anyone but their masters.” Harry shook his head.

Hermione remembered the flock that had gathered outside and had the twinging suspicion that might not be true.

“Anyway. We should go now. Come on.” Harry sat down again and reached out a hand to Fawkes. “He's offered to be our ride home.”

“Is he well enough to do that?” Hermione stepped forward.

“He's fine. He's depressed not sick.” Harry motioned them towards the bird. Hermione sat and placed her hand on Fawkes' tail. Lucy did the same and Morfin slunk out of the shadows to join them.

“Thank you for helping us.” Hermione turned to the shocked researcher and waved with her free hand. “Sorry I couldn't stay to see more of your work. Maybe I'll come back some time.”

“O...Ok?”

Flames rose about the marauders and everything dispersed.
*


Snape was just snipping a small piece of hair from the dying seer (he needed to do more tests) when two loud noises disturbed his concentration. The first was a rushing explosion. The second was-

“HARRY POTTER WHAT IN MERLINS NAME-”

“What? No one's ever appeared in the middle of the hospital wing in a gout of flame before?” Harry replied glibly to Madam Pomfrey as he stood from his position on the floor. The phoenix behind him made a sound somewhere between a trill and gurgle and turned as if to leave.

“Fawkes!” Harry stepped in front of the phoenix and crouched back down to meet it's eyes. “Thank you.”

The phoenix bowed it's head a little.

“You know, there's something I've learnt recently. Something my friends are trying to beat into me.” Harry smiled wryly. “Destroying ourselves for the ones we love is never the right choice.”

Fawkes fluffed his feathers and bowed his head. A moment later flames sprung up around him and be vanished. Leaving ash behind.

“I hope he's alright.” Harry stood and turned towards the bed. “How is she?”

“She is getting worse.” Madam Pomfrey visibly pulled herself together. “We still haven't found the curse effecting her.”

“When you left I wondered where you had gone.” Snape folded his arms and nodded towards the burn mark on the floor. “Now I see. You should have warned me before you left.”

“Do you think it'll work?” Harry ignored Snape's words and lifted small bottle out of his pocket.

“I think it is worth trying since you have it.”

“How non-committal.” Harry moved shakily towards the bed. Snape could tell he was trying to keep calm. “What do I do? Let her drink it or... or let...”

“Give it to me.” Snape held out his hand calmly. Harry slowly reached forward and dropped the tears into the outstretched hand. Snape leant down and softly tilted Pythea's mouth open wih his thumb. He undid the stopper and allowed three drops to fall onto her mouth. Snape waited. You had to allow the tears a little time to seep into the flesh then... another three drops. Then wait.

He continued until the bottle was empty, upending the last few sparkling drops with a whispered prayer of hope. He handed the bottle back and put his fingers to the little seer's neck. All day her pulse had been slow and weak. Now...

“Nothing happened.” Harry took the words out of his mouth. Words that sounded even darker than the truth behind them. “It didn't work.”

“No.” Snape took his hand away. “It did not work.”

“Maybe it just hasn't taken hold yet.” Lucy Kingston suggested.

“The effect would have been instantaneous.” Snape shook his head.

“I so thought...” Harry whispered. “I put everything on this... She's going to die.”

“Harry stop.” Snape fixed his eyes to the tear filled ones in front of him. “It is not over yet. This tells us something. There are very few things phoenix tears do not heal, now that we know it is one of them-”

“Stop.” Harry shook violently. “Stop trying to make me feel better. I gave her the ring and it's killing her and I can't do anything to stop it.”

“There are still avenues of investigation that-”

“SHUT UP!” Harry shouted so violently that Madam Pomfrey stepped back in fear. Snape Didn't move.

“Harry. I will not baby you.” Snape spoke slowly. “Yes, a portion of the responsibility for what has happened is yours. You gave her the ring. But another portion is mine. I worked with that ring for days and detected nothing that could have caused this. I told you it was safe. What has happened is also my responsibility and believe me when I say I will not have another death on my conscience. While she still breaths I will continue to believe she can be saved. As should you. Now... I am taking some of her hair to Paris, to a world expert on things such as this. I have worked with him before. I am hopeful. As for what you should do... I suggest you stay here. And if you have any more fool notions about running off to distant parts of the world in search of some miracle cure...” Snape took a deep breath. “... I suggest you pursue those notions to the fullest because that is what you are best at, and that is how best you can help your friend.”

Snape lapsed into silence, waiting. After a few moments Harry slowly nodded.

“Good.” Snape turned and walked from the hospital wing, the lock of hair he had cut still in his hand.
*


Pursue your fool notions to the fullest.

Harry slowly walked out of the hospital wing. No one tried to stop him.

Running off to distant parts of the world in search of some miracle cure

There was no such thing as a miracle cure. If there was everyone would use it. Harry found his feet moving of their own accord, taking him on familiar routes.

Fool notions

I am a fool. Harry found the door he had been looking for and got out his wand. It was locked of course, but not even this door was too hard to crack. In a few minutes Harry had the charms down and pushed open the door to Snape's office.

Running off to distant parts of the world

Snape was the one in Paris. Harry closed the door quietly. He wouldn't be disturbed. His eye zoomed around the small room and came to light on one of the desk drawers. Harry checked it for enchantments then slowly pulled it open and picked up the ring from inside.

Destroying yourself for the ones you love is never the right choice.

Too bad it's the only choice left.

“There is no miracle cure. Not without knowing what's wrong with her.” Harry whispered into the dark surface of the ring. “Only one living person knows what curse is affecting her. And I need to talk to him.”

Slowly, with trembling hands, Harry slid the ring onto his finger.
________________________________________


Didn't mean to leave it this long before posting again but I'm in my last year of uni and I had my final year project. Then I had the celebration after the project was handed in, which coincided with St Patrick's day... Then the celebration for the end of term a few days later...

Anyways once my head stopped exploding and I could move without screaming I got on with the story. My workload isn't high from now on so the writing pace should pick up a bit from now on.

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I don't own Harry Potter. Neither does THE GOVERNMENT!
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Harry slid the ring onto his finger and sat slowly behind Snape's desk. How would this work? How long would it take? Would he even be able to speak directly to Voldemort or would he just hear him in his mind?

“It depends on how you want to talk.”

Harry's head snapped up from the ring. On the other side of the desk sat Tom Riddle, sitting on the chair students used when they were called into this office. It was a wooden, hard backed chair but he lolled in it like it was a throne. He wasn't quite the same figure that had came out of the diary. He looked the same age but his features were... glassy. His skin was smooth and pale and his eyes had little flecks of red. Through the magic eye he looked ghostly and faint, but through his true eye the dark lord looked real.

“What do you mean it depends?” Harry crossed his arms.

“Well we can talk like this...” Riddle smiled. Or we can talk like this.

“Talking out loud is fine Tommy.” Harry placed his hands flat on the desk, the ring displayed prominently forward. “Tell me what you did the Pythea.”

“I took over her soul. You know that.” Tom Riddle chuckled. The red in his eyes sparkled. “You punched her as I remember. You do know that that's no way to treat a lady.”

“I wasn't talking about that.” Harry snarled. “What's happening to her now? Some wasting curse or something...”

“Really?...” Riddle leant back in his chair. “That... that is unfortunate. You must be crushed.”

“Shut up.”

“I must extend my deepest condolences.”

“Shut up!” Harry slammed his hand down on the desk. “Tell me what the curse is! You obviously hid it well. When I found the ring I removed a shrivelling curse, a samyaza and something I hadn't seen before that would have turned blood to lead in my veins. What did I miss?”

“The lead spell is called a plumb-sang.”

“Tell me you bastard! Tell me or I'll destroy you.”

“Destroy me?” Tom crossed his arms. “I doubt you could. And even if you could it does not matter. After all I am not lord Voldemort, I am just an... image.”

“No you're not. You're lying.” Harry chuckled. “You're more than an image. You have the mind of Voldemort at least, which means you have all his qualities. Qualities like cowardice and self preservation. I think you will tell me what I want to know.”

“Self preservation? Perhaps.” Tom Riddle leant forward. “But the fact remains that you have no idea how to destroy this ring.”

“Phoenix fire destroyed the diary.” Harry gritted his teeth together. “And I know a phoenix who's probably abut ready to burn.”

“Phoenix.... ” Tom Riddle paused and licked his lips. “That will not work.”

“Yes it will. You're lying again.”

“I am not...” Riddle was breathing quickly. “I have no need to lie. I am the dark lord, you have no power over-”

Harry pulled the ring off his finger and the dark lord snapped out of existence mid sentence. Harry held the ring up to his face and said,

“Don't think you have any sort of power here Tommy.” Harry slapped the ring twice against the desk with loud ringing knocks. “You hear me in there? You've got no cards here! Understand? You will tell me or I will kill you!” Harry slammed the ring back on his finger. The dark lord reappeared where he had been, his face a mask of rage.

“You cannot do this to me! I am lord Volde-” Harry pulled the ring off again.

“When I put the ring back on...” Harry snarled. “You will drop the whole 'I am lord Snakeface' thing and tell me exactly what I want to know or you're going to the fire.” Once again the dark lord reappeared, eyes flaring almost full red. But he said nothing.

“Ready to talk yet?” Harry rubbed the band of the ring on his finger. “Just say one word. The name of the curse, that's all you have to say and I put the ring back in the drawer and we never have to speak again.”

“I... You can't do this to me.” The dark lord's eyes flickered back and forth. “You... you cannot...”

“Just tell me the name of the curse. That's all you have to do to avoid being burnanated. Just tell me.”

“I... I am Lord Voldemort.” Tom Riddle's teeth were gritted closed and his hands were gripped to the sides of his chair.

“No you're not. You're a prisoner. A prisoner who's not even alive so there's no requirement for me to not kill you. Tell me what the curse is.”

Riddle's breath was coming swift and shallow.

“Tell me!” Harry yelled. “Tell me!”

Riddle snarled like a dog.

“Tell me!” Riddle was shaking. Not in anger Harry realized... He was shaking in fear. Riddle was terrified. Harry's brow furrowed... Why would he be that scared... “You have no idea what happened to Thea... Whatever happened to her... it wasn't your curse... it wasn't your ring...”

Voldemort had stopped dead, frozen in place, his eyes burning like coals.

“Well...” Harry shook his head. “That's something at least.” Harry reached for the ring and jerked it forward. It would not move. Harry's eyes jerked up. Tom Riddle was smiling like a cat.

“Well well well Potter.” Riddle smirked. “It seems I do have some power after all.”

Harry tried desperately to drag the ring off his finger, it would not move an inch. Harry grabbed for his wand to slice the finger off but he couldn't make his mouth speak the words.

A great deal of power.

Voldemort's was in his head now, the figure gone from the other side of the desk. Harry stumbled and fell against the rough stone wall. Wait... wall? Harry flicked his eyes up. He was in the corridor! He hadn't moved of his own accord... His feet were moving again! Harry clamped his feet down on the floor and slammed his arm against the wall. His wand dropped from his numb fingers.

Feeling a little less in control Mr Potter?

“MYRTLE!” Harry screamed into the blank air. “Myrtle get here or get help!”

Calling help from one of my old victims?

“Someone!” Harry yelled. His wand was back in his hand... NO! Harry forced his fingers to open again and the wand clattered down. Harry slammed his foot down and snapped the little sliver of wood like a twig. He couldn't let Voldemort loose in his body in the middle of Hogwarts. Could not...

You think you have a choice?

“MYRTLE!” Harry fell to the floor. His muscles were twitching, every flickering part of him was trying to move. “Help me!”

Ha ha ha ha!

“Someone!” Harry was on his feet again. Not by choice. He was staggering forward, trying to stop himself... but. “Mico marauders! Mico anyone!” Wouldn't work without a wand.

There is no help for you Mr Potter.

Harry frantically tried to scrape the ring off his finger. It wasn't moving. Not an inch. Black spots were flying before his eyes.

You are mine now.

“Harry what in the hell?” The voice sparked out of the air above him. Harry's head flickered up, at the top of the stares was the tired and moon-sick figure of Draco Malfoy.

“Draco... It's not the ring!” Harry croaked out. He had to tell someone what he'd found. “Pythea! It's not the ring that made her sick! It's... It's... It's something else!”

“Harry what's wrong with you?”

Nothing.

“Nothing.” Harry clenched his teeth closed. “No! Tell Madam Pomfrey!... And get this bloody ri- Nothing is wrong Malfoy.”

Go away you little traitor.

“Harry your... your eyes.” Draco's hand flickered to his wand. “They're red.”

I'm just tired. They are bloodshot.

“I'm just tired.” Harry's neck muscles twisted his head in a shaking motion. “They are bloodshot.”

“Harry maybe we should go to the hospital wing together.” Draco's eyes had gone hard and he had drawn his wand. “I think you may be unwell.”

“Unwell Malfoy?” Harry hissed. “Don't presume to-”

“Stop.” Draco pointed his wand straight between Harry's eyes. “Draw your wand slowly and drop it to the floor.”

“Please... friend-”

“Do it.”

“Hmm...” Voldemort twitched Harry's lips into a smile. “I see there's no point pretending anymore. What was it that gave me away?”

“Harry doesn't call me by my last name.” Draco's eyes narrowed above deep black bags. “You're... something else.”

“I am more than something else.” Voldemort thrust Harry's hand forward, displaying the ring. “I am your rightful master little dog. Heel.”

“Oh wonderful.” Draco muttered.

“Die!” Harry's hand was flung forward and a sparkling bolt of lightning flared out. Draco dodged and flung himself to the floor. Voldemort spun Harry's body for a second hit but Harry flung the last vestiges of his strength onto his treacherous muscles. His arm stopped moving for a fraction of a second.

“Stubefy!” The red spell flashed out of Draco's wand and everything went black.
*


Harry was used to crazy dreams so when he found himself in a dark place full of screaming and hissing he just sat on the floor and thought of apples. After a little while the darkness faded and Harry heard the rustling of trees.

In the night all around him there were snakes. Snakes in his orchard! Harry shuddered, he was in his little dream but he felt drunk. Shaking and unsettled, he looked around. The darkness was seeping in through the trees... invading his orchard. The snakes didn't seem to see him, just kept winding their way through the trees. Four of them whispered their way through the leaves. One wrapped it's way around the roots of the largest tree, biting it's own tail. It's lidless eyes flashed red.

Harry glanced deeper into the wood. One more snake, lying still on the ground. Nailed in place by a wooden stake. Harry looked down at his hand. Another snake was wrapped around his finger. A tiny thin snake with black bands.

Weird. Profetic. Harry shook his head. Not again-
*


“Harry.”

Hm... Harry slowly woke.

“Harry wake up so I can tell you how unspeakably foolish you have been.”

“Professor Snape...” Harry shook the cobwebs out of his head and opened his eyes. The hospital wing was dark and empty. Snape was standing at the foot of Harry's hospital bed. Wait... Snape had to know! “The ring! I found something out about-”

“I got the message Harry.” Snape's face was a blank and angry slate. “Draco understood the significance of your message.”

“You need to help Thea then.” Harry struggled to rise out of the hospital bed. “You need to help-”

“I already did.”

Harry's eye flashed to the bed next to him. Pytea was still lying there but... her heartbeat... it was stronger. It was almost as strong as ever.

“You... you did it?” Harry fell back onto his bed. “You saved her.”

“It was a toxin.” Snape gestured towards the seer. “Once you made me aware that the ring was not the source of her affliction I began to look further afield. I found a terrible poison. It acted more like a disease than a poison. As virulent as I have ever seen.”

“Someone tried to kill her?” Harry found himself staring into shadows to try to see enemies.

“No Harry. I do not believe so.” Snape tapped a small bottle he was holding in his hand. “Last year you were in a near constant state of mild toxicity. You have built up... resistances.”

“Wait... Are you saying I've been poisoned too?”

“Not any more. I cured you when I cured the Pythea.” Snape's eyebrow twitched up. “You were poisoned originally. The poison must have passed to her by some... exchange of fluid.”

“When I was bleeding...” Harry cast his mid back. “She kissed my forehead. She was bleeding too.”

“Is that the story you're sticking to?”

“So someone tried to kill me.” Harry ignored Snape's insinuation and scratched his head. “I'm thinking maybe a group of assassin-mercenaries hired by my arch nemesis?”

“The Lie Gou are the obvious choice.”

“Sounds like you have your doubts.”

“I do.” Snape shook his head. “The poison was not an eastern one, far from it. It was invented in Florence. That does not mean the Lie Gou could not have acquired it but it seems... odd.”

“Odd... wonderful. As if we haven't had enough odd these past few weeks.” Harry rolled his eyes. “And what you're saying is it's possible there are some other people trying to kill me. Wonderful. Just my bloody luck.”

“Oh stop complaining Harry.” A weak voice spoke from the other bed. “You wouldn't know what to do with a boring life.”

“Thea!” Harry slid out of his sheets and stepped over to the little seer's bed. “Are you alright?”

“I feel terrible Harry.” Pythea raised her hand shakily up to his face. “I tried to kill you.”

“I poisoned you.” Harry shrugged. “Besides, after all the times you've saved my life you can probably try to kill me like five or six more times before I get angry.”

“I never saved your life Harry.” Pythea smiled weakly. “I just gave you the impetus to help yourself.”

“You're being all seerey again. Stop it.” Harry chuckled.

“I'm just trying to get you in a good mood.” Pythea looked away. “You aren't going to like what I want to do now.”

“Try me.” Harry tensed.

“I want try again to skry with the ring.”

“No.”

“Harry we know now it wasn't what made me sick.” Pythea protested. Snape moved behind Harry's shoulder, silently backing him up. “We also know that the ring is important to Voldemort. There must be something to find-”

“No!” Harry cut her off. “The thing does nothing but lie and control, just like Voldemort. I'm going to destroy it as soon as possible.”

“I agree.” Snape nodded. “We can safely assume that it was like the diary. A trap for anyone who tried to follow the dark lord's early like. A deterrent to any curious investigation.”

“It doesn't matter what it is.” Harry shook his head. “It's a cancer on the world. Whether by Fawkes, some other phoenix or by some other method entirely that thing is toast.”

Harry spoke definitely, but he couldn't help but feel a niggling doubt. Like a snake curled around his heart.

“We have to destroy it.” Harry repeated, half to himself. “We have to.”
*


“What do you mean they're not flaming?” Harry asked pointedly over the breakfast table.

“I mean they're not.” Hermione held out the letter for him to read. “I wrote to the researchers as soon as you told me to but it's too late. The phoenixes have stopped flaming for winter.”

“For winter?” Harry rolled his eyes. “What do they care about winter? They're on fire!”

“They're birds as well as magical creatures Harry.”

“Wonderful.” Harry shuddered. “When do they stop hibernating?”

“Not till spring.”

“Great. I have to carry this deadly parcel around for months.” Harry hefted his bag on his shoulders. Since the incident the ring had always been with him. In a lead box. He wasn't taking chances. “And until then I've got nothing I can do.”

“You could study.”

“Nothing useful.”

“Well you could ask Professor Snape for something else to do.” Hermione glanced up at the high table where the potions master was absent. Not unusual these days.

“I know, but I don't know If there's anything to be done.” Harry shook his head and gestured to the paper lying discarded on the table between them. “Voldemort seems to be content with random acts of random minor unpleasantness right now. I can't help thinking he's working up to something horrendous.”

“Like diagon alley?”

“Or worse.” Harry shrugged. “No way to tell.”

“Do you think the order has any leads?”

“I think they'd probably tell me.” Harry replied honestly. “Snape's been pretty good about keeping me in the loop so far.”

“Do you know where he's going now?”

“No.” Harry smiled. “Hopefully working.”

“Well, until you find something to do,” Ginny broke in, walking past them. “You can start turning up to marauder training sessions. You've been missing them since the whole ring thing.”

“Pythea was dying.” Harry replied exasperated.

“So are a lot of people.” Ginny replied flatly before moving off. Harry watched her go before turning back to Hermione.

“Her parent's still haven't woken up have they?”

“No.” The bushy haired girl shook her head. “They visit them at weekends.”

“I should go with them some time.”

“Well you've been busy.” Hermione said, in a way that indicated that was no excuse.

“Or I could just tie Draco up and leave him in Ginny's bed.” Harry continued. “That'd probably cheer her up more.”

“Harry-”

“Especially if he was naked.”

“Harry!”

“Oh relax.” Harry chuckled, “Come on, we really should get to the marauder session. Maybe beating the lot of you around the attic will make me feel better.”
*


Snape slowed as he approached the dark stairwell and began walking down carefully. Some of the steps were almost as smooth as glass. The stair twisted down and down into the rock beneath Malfoy Manor. Much further than any of the basements. Snape placed a light hand on the wall as he proceeded down, his wand the only source of light, his footsteps the only sound.

He rounded the final corner and had to shield his eyes as guttering torches came into view. Stretching out before him was a long corridor of blank iron doors, stained black from rust and long decay. The decay was of no consequence, it wasn't the quality of the construction that kept the prisoners in this place. Snape nodded to the two jailers, members of the order, before turning to the third figure standing before him.

“You're late.” Moody growled.

“Yes, I am. I was busy.” Snape replied. “Your point?”

“I've had to wait down in the pit for half an hour!”

“Then you arrived fifteen minutes early and cannot blame me for that.” Snape strode forward past the old auror. “Let us not delay this any further.”

“Right.” Moody stomped after him, holding his wand high as the light of the torches faded into the darkness behind them. Once again Snape was enveloped in silence, the cells themselves were soundproof. Moody finally broke the quiet. “You know why I called you out here.”

“Another of the prisoners seems ready to break.” Snape repeated what he had read in Moody's brief missive that had arrived on his desk before breakfast. “Which one?”

“Don't think it's right.” Moody ignored the question, shaking his head roughly. “It's not right. You've got us pussyfooting around these bastards. Offering them books and shorter sentences and even freedom if they help us.”

“And you think it is ineffective?”

“I think it's bloody wrong is what it is!” Moody snarled. “These men should all be behind bars for life not waited on hand and foot.”

“We need information.”

“Then we should be getting out the thumbscrews!” Moody thrust out a hand to stop Snape moving. “You seriously don't have a problem with offering them all this stuff?”

“Offering? No. We can offer them whatever we want. It doesn't mean we will ever give it to them. And so long as they are never given an opportunity to compare notes? I have no problem.” Snape reached out and pushed Moody's hand out of his way. “Trust that if I deem it necessary I will have no hesitation in deploying the thumbscrews.”

“Oh of that I've got no doubt.” Moody's eye looked Snape up and down in a split second before he stomped off down the corridor again. Snape followed him.

“You never told me who it is I am here to see.”

“Not one of the proper death eaters.” Moody spat. Snape fought the urge to turn up his nose. “One of the stinking criminals you-know-who dragged to his cause.”

“That does not mean he is useless to us.”

“Captured by Harry.” Moody fixed Snape with a stare while still walking. “At Miss Zhao's residence. Last year, you remember.”

Snape stiffened. So the man he was about to talk to had been involved in the attack on Natalie's life. There had been a great deal of unpleasantness that night. Natalie had been reluctant to talk about it at length but-

“Does that change things?” Moody broke Snape's thoughts, his voice full of dark insinuation.

“Why would it?” Snape forced himself to reply.

“I can still get the thumbscrews.”

“Perhaps later.”

Moody came to a stop before a door indistinguishable from the hundreds of other doors.

“His name's Shepherd Kilkenny.” Moody put his hand on the door. “Used to be a cursebreaker for Gringots.” Moody tapped his wand on the door and Snape heard a bolt slam back. The old auror pushed the door open and allowed Snape inside. The cell within was bare. Bed. Chair. Sanitary facilities. Snape had made sure the cells were as stark as possible to encourage the prisoners to break. Sometimes they would talk just out of boredom. As Snape entered the hunched figure sitting at the foot of the bed straightened.

“Hello Mr Kilkenny.” Snape sat down on the hard-backed chair. “I have been informed that you have something to tell me.”

“Yeah,” The man reached up and scratched behind his ear. “But I got some demands.”

“Do you think you are in a position to demand?” Snape was shocked to find his voice was still steady.

“I've got information. Stuff you need to know. But I've heard a lot of 'might' and 'maybe' and 'If your information pans out'.” The prisoner hunched. “I want some guarantees.”

Snape met Shepherds eyes and gently pushed. A barrier of Occlumency met him. Of course it would be there. There would have been no point in this whole exercise if it hadn't. Snape took a moment to consider his response. He could offer whatever he wanted, but it would not do to seem to offer too much. There was a marginal chance that this man was not a fool.

“So long as your information is true you may have some concessions.” Snape replied steadily. “A better quality of sustenance. Books. Perhaps a window. Everything after that is depended on how useful I consider the information you give me is. So I suggest you begin taking steps to convince me.”

“I want to get out of here.” The man sneered. “I want years off.”

“As the Wizengamot no doubt informed you at your trial you have been sentenced to forty years here. I understand the charges were various. Using the dark arts, breaking and entering, attempted murder-” Snape found his throat going hard at the last word and slammed his emotions down behind a wall of emptiness. “And that is in addition to your original sentence for fraud that you never completed.”

“Give me something!”

“Give me a reason to give you something.”

“I...” Kilkenny opened his mouth to yell something but snapped it shut, bringing himself into check. “I'm not young. I may not live forty years.”

“Then it is in your best interest to talk, and talk soon.” Snape leant forward. “I am loosing patience.”

“I... I'll talk.” The prisoner hung his head. “I don't really have a choice do I?”

“No.”

“Well...” The man rubbed his arm. “You know I worked for Gringots?”

“I was aware.”

“You know that I never really worked above the board. Not just skimming off the top, selling secrets too. People'll pay a lot of money to know that Mr so-and-so has almost emptied his account or that some other guy makes regular payments to someone. Businessmen and the like you know? Checking up on their rivals. Investors...”

“I can see how that information could be useful to some.” Snape indicated very clearly with his inflection that he was not one of those some.

“Right, right.” Kilkenny nodded. “But see when the dark lord found out what I did he got all excited. Well... not excited exactly. He doesn't really get excited but he does this thing where his eyes flash and he hisses a bit. Sometimes his nostrils flair-”

“Mr Kilkenny-”

“Right, right... anyway. He told me to get in touch with some of the people who still worked at Gringots. People in the same line of work as me.”

“Go on.” Snape was very careful not to let his interest show.

“He got me to check on some things.”

“Specifically.”

“The activity on certain vaults.”

“Specifically.”

“Well first he wanted to check up on a vault. Get the records of who had accessed it and when.”

“What vault?”

“Sixty three. Deep one.”

“Who owns it?”

“Don't know.”

“What did the records say?”

“Don't know. Didn't read em.”

“You didn't read them?” Snape raised his eyebrows. “An enterprising man like yourself? Always looking for an advantage? Are you trying to tell me you did not even glance at the records before you handed them over?”

“Look I had the dark bloody lord watching my every move!” Kilkenny shuddered. “There's enterprising and then there's just stupid!”

Snape watched the prisoners eyes as he spoke. He could not read his mind but still... Snape had not survived everything he had gone through by being dependent on any one skill. Even without legillimancy he could be reasonably confident as to whether a man was telling the truth. On the other hand, this man had deceived the goblins for years. He would never have survived if he was a bad lier.

“You said you contacted people still at Gringots. What were their name?”

“Well there was only one really...” Kilkenny scratched his head. “Blake Bees, he's in the investment department.”

“And he will corroborate your story?”

“Yeah...” Kilkenny twitched.

“What are you not telling me?” Snape asked sharply.

“Goblins found out he lifted the files.” Kilkenny slumped. “He's in hiding somewhere. Don't know where.”

“Would he know who owned vault sixty three?”

“Well... yeah. He'd have to to get the files.”

“Very well.” Snape stood. “I will consider this.” He turned towards the door.

“Wait!” Kilkenny called out after him. “Don't you want to know about the other thing he asked.”

“Other thing?” Snape asked over his shoulder.

“Yeah, he asked me to check up on another vault.” Kilkenny said desperately, trying to cash in on every scrap of knowledge. “I know who owned this one. Blake told me because he thought it was weird.”

“How so?”

“It was the Lestrange vault.” Kilkenny spread his hands. “The Lestranges worked for him. If he'd wanted something out of it he could have just got them to go in and get it.”

“What did he wish to know?”

“Just who had accessed it. When I told him that no-one, not even a goblin, had been in it since the Lestranges went to prison years ago he seemed... relieved. Well not relieved exactly. He does this thing with his neck-”

“Mr Kilkenny.” Snape cut him off. “Was there anything else?”

“Well... no. I just-”

Snape turned silently and rapped twice on the door. Moody opened it and Snape stepped through. As Snape put his hand on the door to swing it closed the prisoner called out shrilly.

“Please help me out of here!” He wrung his hands. “I've done bad things but I'm not a bad person! He looks at you and you have to do what he says or he'll kill you. I had to! Please. He was too much, I was scared! I was-”

Snape swung the iron slab shut and Kilkenny pathetic cries were shut off suddenly. Snape and Moody were left alone in the darkness. It was a long time before Snape spoke.

“Get him some books.” Snape fought bile rising in his gut. “And better food.”

“But you said-”

“I know what I said.” Snape spun and swept off down the corridor towards the stairs. He had a great deal to think about. With his mind occupied his fingers twitched towards the square patch of scar on his arm.
________________________________________


As I promised, more frequent updates. Although at the time of writing this I am still reeling from the end of Battlestar Galactica. After watching it I was kind of in a daze for a few days, just wandering around muttering 'so say we all' and humming all along the watchtower. Should be OK by posting time though.

Update: Posting time. Yep! Fine.

________________________________________
I don't own Harry Potter. On a totally different note I have some books about Parry Hotter...
________________________________________


Snape tapped his fingers on the hard oak surface of his desk. There was something in what Kilkenny had told him, something important. But his mind could not get a grip on it. He could see that there was something there, he could see the shape of it in the darkness but it was like he was missing something.

Should he have given the prisoner what he wanted?

It did not matter now. Snape shook his head. What he needed to think about now was how to act on the information he had been given. He needed to sort through the darkness and find the truth. Snape's eyes flickered to a locked chest in the corner of his office. Within was locked Dumbledore's pensive, the old man's gift to him. Snape didn't know why, it had been empty when he received it, and the two of them had not been on the best of terms when the old wizard died.

Perhaps he had simply written him into his will years ago and never changed it. Snape walked slowly over to the chest and clicked the latches open. He levitated the heavy bowl over to stand on his desk and stepped back. He was about to lift his wand to his temple when a thought faded into his mind like a ghost.

It was an image, some imagined thing. Dumbledore sitting in his office in the dark, the only light the faint silver glow of memories. Alone.

Snape lowered his wand.

“Was this part of the reason?” Snape murmured. “You took no council but your own. Your own memories to guide you. Living in the past.”

Another image faded into his mind. Dumbledore leaning over the silver surface gazing into a face in the mirror surface. A girls face, with the same deep eyes as the old man's.

“I suppose it would be more difficult to let go of guilt...” Snape conceded. “When the memory is so close. He could walk with his sister every day. He should not have... but he could have.”

But even as he said it Snape realized that that would not be the memory Dumbledore would relive. It would be the moment of her death. Not knowing who had really fired the spell that killed her... He would have relived it again and again, trying to find out. Living in guilt. Or wallowing in it.

Pathetic.

Snape couldn't stop himself from thinking it. Even now he could find only token sympathy for the old fool. But the one thing he knew with an iron certainty was that he could never let himself become like him. He had to take council other than his own. Reliving the encounter would tell him nothing he did not already know, allowing someone else to see it might.

His thoughts instantly turned to Natalie, but he had already sent her on assignment. Analysing a recent attack site. He could call her back but... Who else? Minerva was an obvious choice, but her mind worked too similarly to his own. She would have no insights he himself had not already had. Michelson? No. As much as Snape had come to trust the man for his fighting talent subtlety was not his strong suit. So perhaps... well he had promised to keep him updated.

Snape summoned his patronus and whispered a message too it before allowing it to float off through a wall. He did not have to wait long, after just a minute or so there was a knock on the door.

“Come in Harry.” The door swung open and the student stepped inside. He appeared to have just run a marathon. “You have been training?”

“How did you guess?” Harry walked over to the desk. Snape deliberately did not mention how much the boy was limping. “What did you call me for? The message was kind of cryptic.”

“Here.” Snape drew his wand to his temple. “It will be simpler if you see for yourself.” He drew the memory out of his head and let it fall softly into the pensive. “Do you know what this is?”

“A memory.” Harry shifted around so that he could look down into it. He leant forward, then hesitated. “Do you want to go first?”

“I will not be coming. I do not wish to bias your interpretation.” Snape motioned Harry to proceed. The boy nodded and dipped his head into the bowl. His body went slack and Snape knew that at that moment Harry was seeing dark stairs.

He waited several minutes, tapping his desk in impatience before Harry lifted his face from the silver liquid.

“When did this happen?” Was the first thing the boy said.

“Just now.” Snape scooped up the memory and fed it back into his mind. He wanted the knowledge fresh. “I would like to hear your interpretation.”

“Why?” Harry crooked an eyebrow.

“Because it may be different from mine.”

“But why me?”

“Just tell me what you saw Pott-” Snape bit off the end of that sentence and licked his lips. He tried again. “I have been thinking hard on these events, very hard, and I have... met, shall we say... cognitive blocks. I need fresh eyes. Yours have usually been good.”

“The magic eye didn't work in the memory.”

“That is not what I meant.” Snape heard iritation re-enter his voice.

“Right, right...” Harry carefully dropped back into a chair, once again sparing his injured leg. “Well... clearly Voldemort was after two separate things... It sounded like the first thing was... was something he wanted to get. The thing in vault sixty-three. It belonged to someone else and he was looking for it, or wanted to see, or something.”

Snape was about to nod, but thought better of it. Better to get an unbiased view even though Harry's thoughts mirrored his own.

“So that was something he wanted to get. The other thing...” Harry scratched his head. “If he had wanted something out of the vault he would have just sent a Lestrange down to get it. It sounds like he was just checking no-one had been in while he was away. Like he was checking up on it. Which means that there's something in there he wants kept safe.”

Snape knew he had called the right person.

“I remember...” Harry's brow creased. “I remember last year... right at the start. The order meeting I listened in on. Didn't you say the dark lord had you experimenting with polyjuice potion so it would work with non-humans? Could the goblins have been the target?”

Snape schooled his face with an effort of will. He had not made that connection.

“And that was about the time Barty Crouch vanished into thin air.” Harry put forward. “And his speciality is sneaking, disguises... Am I making any sense?”

“So what you are saying.” Snape said slowly. “Is that the dark lord guessed, or knew, the location of an item, questioned a former cursebreaker to be sure and sent his best spy in to acquire it. Is that what you are saying?”

“Yes?” Harry said hesitantly. “But wait... that doesn't make any sense. Barty Crouch was missing for about a year. If he tried to break in wouldn't he either manage it quickly or fail quickly? Not hang around for months.”

“It would depend.” Snape said thoughtfully. “If he wished to steal the item without anyone realising it was gone. Then that would require preparation... research... It might well take time.”

“He would have to get close.” Harry nodded. “Probably get himself hired on to the Gringots staff. He certainly has the skills to be a cursebreaker.”

“The goblins check their employees for disguises.”

“They check for magical disguises.” Harry smiled. “What are the two most salient features of Crouch? That everyone remembers? His blond hair and the fact that he looks very young for his age. If he dyed his hair and grew a beard he could probably go unnoticed without any magical help whatsoever.”

“Such a person would be memorable.” Snape could feel the pieces clicking into place in his mind. “I wonder if William Weasley recalls such an individual.”

“Who?”

“Bill Weasley.”

“Ah!”

“If we could find what Crouch took we might be able to guess the dark lords plans.” Snape stood. “Thank you Harry. Your insights were most helpful. I will inform you if Weasley recalls anything.”

“Right, you do that.” Harry grinned evilly. “I'll look for a rat in his bolthole.”

“A... rat?”

“Mr Blake Bees, the informant in Gringots. The one in hiding.” Harry tapped his temple knowingly. “If he was in the business someone at the Tarot may know how to get in contact with him. He can tell us who's vault it was, and maybe more.”

“Take backup.” The words dropped from Snape's mouth before his mind had even formulated them. “Do not go to that place alone.”

“For god's sake!” Harry threw his hands up. “I keep telling people this, the Tarot isn't dangerous. The people there might coldly order a hit on you but they're not going to smash a bottle against the table and do the job themselves.”

“Even so.” Snape raised a hand to stop Harry from commenting further. “As we have seen today, four eyes see more than two.”

“Not more than my eyes-”

“Take someone Harry.” Snape allowed the tone of command to enter his voice. “A marauder or an order member, I do not care. But you will take someone.”

Harry's eye twitched and he opened his mouth as if to comment again, then shut it suddenly. He nodded.

“Fine. Understood.” Harry made a mocking bow. “I hear and obey oh glorious leader.”

“One other small matter.” Snape drew his wand. “If something goes wrong you will need a way out.”

“I keep telling you-”

“Not just now Harry, in other situations as well.” Snape raised his wand to Harry's face. “Hold quite still.”

“Is this going to hurt?” Harry asked quickly.

“I have no idea.” Snape smiled, and cast the spell.
*


“Harry you are well aware that this is not what Snape meant.” Pythea raised an eyebrow as Harry pointed to a large pub with a star on it's sign. “He told you to bring backup.”

“He told me he didn't care who.” Harry pointed out.

“Harry I can't fight.”

“I don't need you to.” Harry led the seer towards the door. “This place is as safe as Hogwarts. Safer probably. The people who drink here are sticklers for propriety though. I needed someone who wouldn't make a scene, someone who could do subtlety. Do any of the marauders fit that bill as well as you? Draco maybe, but it was full moon last night.”

“Padma, Hermione, Ginerva...”

“Ginny's grown less predictable.” Harry shook his head. “Padma's an outside possible but really it had to be you. This whole thing is about gathering information and who better to help than a seer. I need you to watch people's eyes.”

“I can't read minds any more Harry.”

“And yet you still know what people are thinking half the time.” Harry reached the door and stopped, his hand raised. “Please Thea, come in with me.”

“Harry...” Pythea took a deep breath. “Fine.”

Harry smiled and pushed the door open. Within the place looked like any other pub in a coastal town. There was a roaring fire in the grate and scenes on the walls of fish and fish related activities. The low murmur of conversation filled the air but no-one looked up as he entered. They had their own cares mainly. Harry led the was confidently to the bar.

Order whatever you want.

Harry flashed into Pythea's mind before turning to the barmen and ordering his own drink. After Harry had handed over his money he led them to a table near the fire and slid a coaster under the seer's wine.

“Drinks are messages here.” Harry explained. “If it's on a coaster, that means the only message is that you were thirsty.”

“I see.” Pythea replied, taking a sip of drink and carefully placing the glass back on the mat. “And what does yours mean?”

“Well, it's golden and expensive...” Harry pored the whiskey into his class. “What do you think?”

“Was it necessary to buy such an expensive bottle?”

“It never hurts here to show you have money.”

“And why Irish?”

“Well,” Harry grinned. “Got to support my homeland don't I?”

“So what do we do now?” Pythea glanced around, still speaking quietly. “Simply wait for someone to notice?”

“That's now it works.” Harry shrugged. He raised his glass to his lips but did not drink any. It would definitely not do to lose focus here. He tried not to even breath in any of the fumes. “Besides, it's a nice place to spend the afternoon.” Harry gestured out the window at the coast below. The winter winds were whipping the waves to peaks before crashing them against the beach. Out further a few boats were still visible, bobbing up and down.

“I suppose it is not so bad.” Pythea smiled. “This place is quite pleasant. I did not expect it to be so...”

“Homely?”

“Peaceful.” Pythea glanced around. “That man has absinthe. What does that mean?”

“Can't remember...” Harry scratched his head. “It either means he's selling heroin or buying human organs. Can't remember which.”

“And you say this place is safe?” Pythea quirked an eyebrow.

“I said safe. I didn't say nice.”

Pythea shook her head and chuckled, then grew quiet as a man approached their table.

Time to go to work.

Harry smiled.
*


“This is the man we are looking for.” Snape slid a picture of Crouch over the table towards the ginger haired young man at the other end.

“He doesn't look like anyone I know.” Bill Weasley shook his head tiredly. “Look I know what Barty crouch looks like, all the order do. If I had seen him I would have-”

“He would have concealed his identity.” Snape waved his hand over the photo and the face grew a short beard. “Or this?” The photo's hair went black. “Look at the eyes. They will not have changed.”

“Look if I had seen him I would kn-” Bill froze suddenly. “Can you make him bald? Keep the beard.”

Snape made the changes.

“And brownish beard. Make it bushier.” Bill leant over the photo. “I... I do remember him.”

“Do you.” Snape kept his voice calm as the pieces fell together. “When?”

“Only a few times... He was working in a different department.”

“Working on what?”

“I don't know.” Bill rubbed his forehead. “They don't tell us what other people are working on.”

“How long was he there?”

“I don't know. I haven't seen him recently.”

“Who worked with him?”

“I don't know.”

“Find out.” Snape ordered flatly.

“I can't.” Bill shook his head. “The goblins are getting rid of humans left, right and centre. They're looking for an excuse. And with mum and dad still in hospital I can't-”

“This could be very important.” Snape snapped. “Are you a member of the order or not?”

“Yes but-”

“Then find out where he worked, what he worked on and who he worked with.” Snape leant forward. “And find out who owned vault sixty three.”

“I could get fired!”

“You could be killed.” Snape replied coldly. “The goblins tend to be very direct about threats to their gold. So I suggest you find out carefully.”
*


“Is this the place?” Harry looked up at the dingy and broken apartment building.

“This is the address the man mentioned.” Pythea glanced down at the litter strewn street. Her expression was... not impressed.

“Certainly something going on up there.” Harry squinted up. “The top floor's all fuzzy.” Harry blinked a couple of times and rubbed his eyeball on his sleeve before peering up again. “Nope, can't see anything. You see anything?”

“I'll try...” Pythea closed her eyes. “Could you step away please?”

“What?”

“Just take a few steps away please Harry.” Pythea was staring, close eyed, at the sky. “Just trust me.”

Harry stepped back, frowning. For a few moments the seer stood there, staring up at the sky. Then she nodded.

“There is someone up there.”

“Well that's promising.” Harry drew his wand. “You apparate back to Hogwarts I'll check it out.”

“No.”

“Damn.”

“You must have known I was going to say that.”

“I thought you were going to be a bit more abstract. Like 'I'll never abandon you.' or 'Damn you Harry you don't have to go it alone!'”

“I'm thought the effect would be greater if I was less profound.”

“Well, we should get on with it then.” Harry stepped off the pavement towards the building. “Stay behind me and warn me if your crazy sixth sense picks up anything. If the first five do as well. And if he attacks or something just shield and run.”

“No.”

“Damn.”

Harry pushed the front door open. It creaked a little. The inside was even more decrepit and covered in graffiti. Harry's eye flickered up the building. It wasn't totally empty, one man sleeping on the second floor, two children apparently home alone on the next floor up, a cat... Then the blankness of the top floor. Harry kept his eye trained on the top floor as the two of them climbed up and up. As they reached the top floor Harry slowed to a crawl.

The door was already open.

“Seer senses seeing anything?”

“No.” Pythea was hanging back a few steps. “Are yours?”

“No...” Harry paused and turned, smiling. “This is a fun first date isn't it?”

“Harry this is hardly the time!”

“Fine.” Harry shrugged and turned back. “Back to seriousness.” Harry silenced the door and disillusioned both himself and Pythea. In the blue light of his eye he saw the little seer flick out the marauder glasses. He pushed the door open and edged into the dingy little flat. The instant he got through the door his eye shut down, plunging him into uncomfortable darkness. After over a year of super powered sight having it ripped away felt horrifically claustrophobic.

“Pythea stay close I can't see you any more.” Harry whispered. A hand brushed lightly against the back of his neck. “God I hope it's you doing that.”

Harry glanced into a dark and empty closet before sliding forward. Blood. Harry sniffed again, definitely blood. Harry put his hand against the door to the bedroom and pushed it open slowly. A body lay sprawled on the floor, blood seeping into the carpet, neck slashed ear to ear. Blake Bees, the Gringots informant. They were too late. Harry aimed his wand and whispered a charm. A tiny red glow was visible for a moment above the dead man. Still warm.

A tiny tap came on the back of Harry's neck and a barely heard voice said...

“Remember, I saw life up here.”

Harry gritted his teeth. He had remembered. Harry felt blind without his eye. Lacking in depth perception certainly. Life up here didn't necessarily mean the murderer was still here. It could have just been the victim slowly and excruciatingly bleeding out.

“Thea leave now.”

“Harry-”

“This time I'm se-” A ripple of air was the only warning Harry got. He dropped to the floor as the knife flashed over his head. In a splinter of a second he spun. “Depulso!” Harry aimed the spell behind him, a sharp scream sounded and Pythea was thrown back through the open door. A second spell slammed the door shut but Harry was already rolling to his feet with his wand outstretched.

“Augmenta.” The stream of water splashed against the invisible assassin, outlining him in droplets. “Ferio!” The Lie Gou ducked and launched forward, blade flashing for Harry's neck.

Harry knocked it aside desperately but the silent killer was on him, forcing him to the floor with inhuman strength. Harry was using all his strength to keep the blade from his throat, his other arm pinned, fingers curling around his wrist. He couldn't hold on, the water made it too slippery. Closer and closer.

Harry let his legs fold and heard his opponent grunt as the weight hit his arms. Harry jabbed his head forward and hit something, he kicked out and snapped the legs out from under the silent killer. A twanging thunk sounded right next to his head and Harry saw a knife appear from nowhere, dropped from numb fingers. Harry was on it like a flash and stabbed forward. Red blood fountained from invisible flesh. The fingers around his arm tightened like a vice... then finally released.

Before Harry's eyes the Lie Gou assassin flashed into view, falling to the floor. The spell fading as the life ebbed out of it's caster. The door burst open.

“Harry how dare y-” Pythea's eyes flashed to Harry, on the floor and covered in blood. Her eyes went wide.

“I'm fine. It's his.” Harry said breathlessly.

“Harry is he... is he dead.” Pythea still hadn't moved from the doorway.

“Yeah.” The knife fell slowly from Harry's fingers. “He is.”

“He was trying to kill you.”

“They always are.” Harry slowly pushed himself to his feet and took a breath. Blood filled his nose. “We need the order here. They should go over the place... maybe find something.” Harry's leg was buckling under him and his eye cast around for him walking stick. It was lying right in the middle of the pool of blood. He let it be.

“Harry... you're not aright.” A normal person would have said 'are you aright', but they would have been foolish to do it.

“I'll be fine, later. It's just... this is one of those times I'd rather be Jack.” Harry laughed humourlessly and limped over to the door.
*


An hour later and Harry was sitting on the cold steps in a courtyard at Hogwarts. Back at the flat a police barrier had been set up and aurors dressed as coppers were trying to keep people out. Inside more aurors would be peering around and poking things. Harry had left, he had wanted to stay so he knew what was happening, but Shacklebolt had turned up and Harry hadn't felt like explaining everything again. He had slipped off into the dark.

“You should not have brought the seer.” Snape's voice did not catch Harry by surprise. Neither did his words or the stern tone.

“I know. It was a mistake.” Harry nodded, not looking as the professor approached. “I could have got her killed.”

“I told you to bring competent backup.”

“And you were right.” Harry's voice was deadened. “Can we please move on.”

“As you wish.” Snape conjured a chair and sat down opposite Harry. He looked tired. Harry was sure he himself looked worse.

“They find anything up there?”

“No, and at this point I do not expect they will.” Only someone who knew Snape would have detected the frustration in his voice. “There were signs that certain documents had been burnt just before you arrived here, whether by the victim or his killer it matters little. There is nothing here.”

“Tell me your investigation turned up something.” Harry glanced up at Snape, not daring to hope. Snape shook his head.

“Damnit....” Harry dropped his head to his hands. “Dead end then. Unless we ask the goblins directly. Or we could get Kingsley to ask them-”

“No.” Snape shook his head. “I believe our best hope is to allow William Weasley to acquire the documents we need. If we petition the goblins directly at the same time they will certainly become suspicious.”

“So we do what? Wait and hope that Bill succeeds?” Harry snorted. “What do we do in the mean time? Just sit on our hands?”

“I have many things to do.” Snape said dryly. “As for you... I suggest you try to have a Merry Christmas.”

“Ha!” Harry laughed mirthlessly. “That's not going to happen-” Harry's words were cut off as a crossbow bolt thudded into his back.
*

________________________________________
For some reason the previous chapter got chopped off weirdly. There was meant to be a whole nother scene but somehow it just dropped off the face of the earth. I didn't notice until it was validated and put up. Wierd... Serves me right for not checking my chapters properly before I post them I guess.

Anyways that scene can go at the start of this chapter just as easily. Just letting you know I didn't intend to give you another cliffhanger.
________________________________________


Harry spun like a top and fired madly at the white figure on the roof. It ducked like a ghost but Harry could still see him dashing away. Ignoring Snape's cries Harry shot a hook at the tiles and was jerked off his feet, clattering onto the tiles. His leg screamed in pain as Harry scrambled to the peak of the roof. The white figure was far away, Harry knew he wouldn't be able to catch him. Harry stabbed his wand forward and fired a curse. The figure shielded easily without even stopping. Harry spun his wand like and felt the tiles beneath his jump. He tried to stay on top of them as they hovered and spun forwards. He shut his eyes and used only the magic one, his real eye couldn't follow fast enough. The figure was already too far away, too fast. Harry yelled,

“Tempesto!” The wind smashed into his side and threw him through the air, barely in control, before thudding to the grass and rolling. Everything hurt. Harry rolled to his feet and stumbled towards the forest. He could see the figure belting through the trees. Harry dashed towards the dark fo-

DANGER!

Harry's eye caught a glimpse too late. Harry skidded on the leaves as four arrows flashed above his head. He scrambled backwards back onto the grass and stopped, wand outstretched and breathing heavily.

Through the dark trees, in the cold light of his eye, Harry could see his assassin standing out of view. Dotted all around were centaurs, each one with a arrow notched to his bow. They were just waiting for him to cross the line back into the wood. Harry glanced at one of the arrows embedded in the ground, they wanted to kill him. The centaurs wouldn't pass the line, apparently the strange, white clad assassin had no such compunction.

Harry stood up and watched as the centaurs and their strange friend turned and slowly retreat into the wood.

“Harry!”

Harry turned and saw Snape hurrying toward him.

“He got away.” Harry staggered forward, limping. “It wasn't one of the Lie Gou. I could see his face he was European... had a scar-”

“Harry you have an arrow in you.” Snape said, surprisingly calmly.

“What? Oh...” Harry looked over his shoulder “That's not an arrow, it's a crossbow bolt. Common mistake.”

“Harry do not expect me to be surprised by the fact that you're alive.” Snape crossed his arms.

“Spoilsport.” Harry tugged the bolt out. It's point was crushed and blunted. “It's the coat. It's got enough charms to stop a tank.”

“Give me the arrow.”

“Bolt.”

“Cease this Harry.”

“Fine.” Harry rolled his eyes and tossed the arrow to his teacher. “Who do you think it was?”

“How could I possibly know that Harry.” Snape said sharply. “In a usual situation I am sure the aurors would ask if you had any enemies however-”

“Futile.”

“Correct.”

“You think it was the centaurs?” Harry glanced back into the woods. There was nothing to be seen now, not a thing was moving. “Do you think they hired someone to kill me?”

“Why would they wish to do that?” Snape's eyes narrowed.

“I... Last time I met centaurs they said I was an abomination.” Harry said hesitantly. “They said they'd kill me if I ever went into the forest again.”

“And you...”

“Went into the forest again.”

“I am not remotely surprised.”

“But why would they wait this long to try something?” Harry scratched his head. “Doesn't add up.”

“The ministry has means of contacting the centaur elders.” Snape said quietly, staring into the dark forest. “I will try to make contact.”

“Carefully.”

“Yes, carefully.”

“Definitely.”
*


“Have a good christmas Harry. Keep training.” Ginny half smiled, faintly at Harry before turning and trudging away from the Hogwarts gates through the snow. Hunched over with her hands in her pockets, the smile wouldn't have fooled most people so it certainly didn't fool Harry.. He thought about calling after her but instead shook his head and turned to Ron and the twins, who had come to pick the school age Weasleys up.

“Try to make sure she smiles at least once a day.”

“We'll try Harry.” Fred sighed. “No promises.”

“And if I signal, come running.” Harry held up an 'M' badge. The twins knew what he meant, they had created the charm. It was like the dark marks just a little less... perminant. Every marauder had one and they could bring them directly to Harry wherever he was. “We'll... not running... Teleporting. But you get the idea.”

“Aye aye, sir.” Fred saluted comedically.

They turned to leave and Harry trudged back towards the castle. Draco was standing in the doorway, leaning against a pillar. His face was grey and lined, obviously last night's moon hadn't been kind to him. Harry wasn't in a mood to be sympathetic.

“You could at least show here some human sympathy.” Harry said flatly.

“And what would that do?” Draco growled. “It would just give her hope for something that can't ever happen.”

“Why the hell not?”

“Shut up Potter. You don't understand.”

“Oh god that again.”

“You can't ever understand!” Draco shoved Harry away roughly.

“I understand that you're giving the cold shoulder to a girl who's parents are still being fed on drips.” Harry said harshly. He'd tried everything else, maybe bluntness would get through Draco's thick skull.

“I don't want to hurt her.”

“You are hurting her!” Harry pointed away at the distant figure, trudging through the snow a distance away from her brothers.

“I'm a werewolf.” Draco muttered. “I can't do... I can't have a girlfriend.”

“Lupin apparently thinks differently.”

“Well that's bloody Lupin's choice isn't it!” Draco spun and fixed Harry with an angry glare. “Just shut up about things you don't understand Potter.”

“I understand enough to know that the werewolf thing is just an excuse.” Harry spat back. Draco's eyes flashed wide, the words biting deep. Harry pressed on. “So what you're effectively doing Draco, making Ginny miserable for no good reason and then claiming it's because you're being noble. Like you're taking the high ground when really all you're doing is-”

“Shut up.” Draco's wand was in his hand somehow. “Just shut up Harry. Shut up.”

“Fine.” Harry held his hands up. “Whatever. I can see I'm not going to get a straight answer out of the twisted lump of conflicting reasoning, self hatred and false sacrifice shaped by the twin forces of teenage arrogance and lust you call your brain. Come on, we've got a little project for this holiday season. It'll be fun.”

“Oh really? And what is this project?” Draco asked sharply.

“Simple, the ring.” Harry patted his bag. “I don't buy that phoenix flame is the only way to destroy the thing. Got to be something else that can do the job, we're going to find it.”

“So essentially...” Draco narrowed his eyes. “You want to research the most in-sainly destructive spells known to wizard-kind.”

“Yes.” Harry smiled. “Told you it'd be fun.”
*


In the end they only found two things that could match the power of phoenix flame, and neither of them were pleasant. One of them at least seemed easy to aquire, at least at first...

“What do you mean 'You burnt it'?” Harry asked shrilly.

“Burnt it years ago.” Markus Michelson shrugged. “The day after you killed it. Went back down into the chamber of secrets and torched the thing. Nothing left but ashes and I scattered them pretty widely.”

“You... you torched the bassilisk...” Harry sighed. “You didn't happen to keep a tooth as... as like a keepsake or something?”

“The teeth and the venom are the most dangerous part, whole reason I got rid of the thing.” Michelson's brow furrowed. “Why?”

Harry told him. Michelson cursed and punched the wall.

“So...” Harry said, after leaving the defence professor's office. “That leaves the other option.”

“I do not want to use the other option.” Draco remarked darkly.

“You know the incantation.”

“It's not a matter of knowing.” Draco shook his head. “This is fiendfyre we're talking about. It grows out of control, it can consume it's caster and everything around him.”

“Hence why we need to go somewhere we're there's nothing to consume.” Harry said simply. “I know fiendfyre's dangerous but if we go somewhere deserted we can't hurt anyone.”

“Except ourselves.”

“True, but you're suicidal on account of being a werewolf and I'm crazy enough not to care. What have we got to lose?”

“Good point.” Draco cracked a wry smile. “Do you have a place that will be deserted enough?”

“I have just the place in mind.” Harry nodded. “We'll get Morfin to take us there. Don't want to put Pythea in danger again.”

“Does Morfin know the place well enough to apparate to it?”

“Oh yes...” Harry grinned again, this time less pleasantly. “He lived there most of his life.”
*


The waves crashed harshly against the cliffs of Azkaban island, sending up sheets of spray. The wind was bitingly cold, whistling through the ruins of the prison with terrifying speed. Harry stood with his face into the wind and breathed in the majesty of it, better able to appreciate the power of nature when the charms worked into his coat kept him pleasantly warm.

“Where shall we do this?” Draco had to raise his voice against the wind. Harry had cast warming charms on both him and Morfin but they still had to contend with the sheer force of the gale.

“Suppose it doesn't really matter.” Harry shrugged and pointed to what looked like the remains of a courtyard. “Over there I guess.” Harry turned to Morfin. “Oh, and make sure none of Smokey's friends come near here OK? Wouldn't want them getting hurt.”

“Smokey's friends?” Draco asked.

“Invisible, magical, poisonous snakes.” Harry smiled. “They live on this island. Morfin told me.”

“The ministry doesn't know about them.”

“That would be because they're A: Invisible. B: Solely indigenous to an island at the arse end of nowhere and C: Fed mostly on prisoners the dementors had already killed. Though I suppose they probably eat seagulls now.” Harry came to a stop in the middle of the courtyard and reached back into his bag. He took out the package the ring was in and put it on the ground without bothering to unwrap it. No call touching it more than was necessary.

“Do you have the backup plan?” A hint of nervousness had entered Draco's voice. Harry didn't answer but instead drew two broomsticks out of his bag. He handed one to Morfin and the got on the other himself. Each of them grabbed one of Draco's shoulder's.

“Why am I trusting my safety to your flying ability.” Draco shuddered.

“I may not be a great flyer Draco but I can go straight up.” Harry rolled his eyes. “Quit stalling and torch the thing already. If this doesn't work we'll try dropping it in a volcano.”

“Don't rush me Harry.” Draco grated. “You're not the one channelling hellish flame through your fingernails.”

“I did offer to-”

“Don't even say it.” Draco broke in. “You're not... focussed enough to keep this power in check.”

“I do know Legilimancy.” Harry said indignantly. “And occlumency. And I can juggle knives, don't tell me that doesn't need focus.”

“Get on with it...” Morfin hissed darkly, his eyes flickering back and forth. Being back on the island was perhaps effecting him a bit more than he was letting on.

“Aright...” Draco gritted his teeth and raised his arms. He closed his eyes and began to chant, a red glow rising from his hands. The air was growing warmer, sparking with energy. Harry gripped his friend's arm harder. His eye was picking up strange shadows out of the air, things with strange, sharp, silhouettes. Spinning like a a whirlpool, settling into Draco's hands, draining in. Each time one of them touched the shaking Slytherin's hands the heat grew and the air sparked.

“Draco...” Harry started. “Maybe we shouldn't-”

“Now!” Draco's eyes flashed open and the courtyard filled with blood red flame. Both of Harry's eyes were blinded by the sudden explosion of light and magic, he tried to shield his eyes but it wasn't any good.

“Draco! You'll have to tell me if it goes out of control I can't see!” Harry could see the outline of the stream of energy flowing out of his friend's hands. It shifted and moved and seemed to be trying to break free. For a moment the wing of an eagle formed out of the flame, Draco seemed to tense and the wing vanished. A horses head exploded out a moment later and Draco again squashed it down.

“Draco...”

“I've got it.” The horses head reared up again, it's eyes wide, and tried to leap at the three wizards. Draco yelled in pain and it was subsumed again into the stream of flame.

“Draco-”

“I've GOT IT!”

“You don't!”

“I've got it!”

An elephant breached out of the nowhere and charged towards them. Harry whipped his wand out and blew the flaming creation into nothing. More creatures began flashing out of the flame, more and more. Harry swore and yelled,

“UP! We're leaving!”

Harry jerked the broom under him up, it rose jerkily. Harry kicked it and it flew a little faster. Something with claws jumped at him and Harry flashed a flame-freezing charm at it before remembering it didn't work of fiendfyre and having to blow it up. Fragments of the beast peppered him with burns and he yelled in pain. The broom shot up and the air slowly grew colder. Harry's arm ached and he looked over to see Draco hanging between him and Morfin.

“You aright mate?” Harry tried to yell but his words were carried away by the roaring flame. Red droplets of fiendfyre were still dripping from the werewolves fingers, but they were petering out. Slowly. Harry heaved upwards and (minus a hideous wobble when the broom tried to go it's own way) dragged Malfoy up onto his broom. Harry waved Morfin back and hovered away himself, keeping a death grip on the handle of the broomstick.

As they got further away Harry could truly see the devastation the fire was reaping. Black rock was giving way to flame out from the courtyard. The roaring maelstrom of creatures was pooling out like some sort of flaming mould.

Harry cursed, it would be easily visible from the mainland. That could cause unhelpful questions. Harry drew his wand and thought for a moment... there was no way he could vanish the island, or make an illusion to cover it, which meant going for something more basic.

“Nebulosus.” Harry dipped his wand down and allowed a thick mist to drain out. He felt the broom move underneath him and panicked for a moment before realising that Draco was doing it, moving him into a better position.

Harry slowly built up a wall of mist between the island and the mainland. When he was finished the fire was still burning strong and stretching out to cover a good quarter of the prison isle. They had to wait over an hour, hovering in the Atlantic winds before the last of it died out. Harry let Draco take the broom down slowly and slipped off.

“Ow! Ow! Argh!” Harry shot back into the air and grabbed back onto the broom. Wincing as his feet slowly cooled from burning to blistering.

“Harry you're an idiot.”

“Shut up.” Harry muttered a cooling charm at the floor and stepped back down. The heat had been rendered bearable. But only just. With frequent charms to cool his path Harry made his way to the charred ruins of the courtyard and peered at the floor. His wand made whispers of wind to brush away the glowing embers and Harry saw a little glint of light. The stone of the ring had been burnt away but the gold had simply melted, covering the stone with a golden sheen. Harry bent down and hesitantly laid his hand on the shining metal.

“Anybody in there?”

Harry projected the thought down. He waited a few moments but nothing came back. Harry shrugged and pointed his wand at the pavement. With a grating moan the stone came free. Harry levitated it into his bag.

“You're taking it with us?” Draco called out incredulously from his perch high above.

“I want to make sure.” Harry shrugged. “Snape can-” But he was cut off as a flash of light lit up the night sky and a body fell from the air with a thud. Morfin sprawled on the ground, unmoving. Harry rushed over to him but even before he did there was another flash and Draco tumbled out of the sky like a dead bird.

Harry's wand was already in his hand, his eye scanning helplessly for an enemy, a clue, ANYTHING! But there was nothing, for all he could see they were alone. The only sound was the slow cooling of the rock.

“Who are you?” Harry called out. “Voldemort?”

“No.”

Harry spun but he was too slow, the stunner caught him in the chest. He just had time to see Sasori's mocking eyes before the darkness closed in.
*


“You brought him in alive?”

Harry was familiar enough with unconsciousness to know how it usually went.

“I thought it was prudent. They were doing something rather strange.”

First you could only hear the voices.

“And what was that pray?”

It was good to stretch this part out as long as possible. You were still mostly knocked out so people generally didn't notice you were listening.

“They went there to destroy something. The Malfoy boy called fiendfyre but was unable to control it.”

“Foolish children. Playing with dangerous toys.”

Ah. Now that voice Harry recognised. They took me to Voldemort. Harry's gut clenched and he slipped into full consciousness. He was lying on a cold stone floor, but smooth. Maybe marble? No, not that smooth. Harry realized that with his eyes shut he was completely blind. There was also a nauseating empty feeling in his eye socket. Harry cursed silently. His magic eye was gone. Harry could feel some sort of bond around his wrists. He couldn't feel a knot, or a lock. Maybe if he-

“Mr Potter I know you are awake.” The voice of Voldemort cut through the dark. “We've been through this many times before do not think you can deceive me.” Harry snorted and flicked his eyelids open.

“Just like old times eh Tommy?” Harry levered himself up onto his knees. Voldemort was standing just a few steps away, looking faintly amused. His skin was perhaps a touch lighter than before, even a little pinker. He even almost had a nose. He looked... humaner. He also had a glaring scar across his throat, red and raw and jagged. Harry allowed himself a smile. At least he had left an impression.

Harry glanced around, they were is a... a laboratory? That was what it looked like. Some kind of mad scientist's lair. All around were tables of bottles and arcane, weird items. The table behind Voldemort looked like it had been cleared in a hurry and in the empty space... Harry's own eye stared back at him, rocking listlessly. The golden flagstone was there too, and a few other interesting (illegal) items. Harry hissed as he breathed in. His bag was supposed to only release those items to him. Clearly that barrier had not been a barrier to Voldemort. Or perhaps it had been Sasori, standing quietly near the far wall.

“Seen everything you need Harry?”

“One more minute.” Harry squinted behind the tables and almost gasped. Back near the wall there was an arch of black metal, thick around as a person and pulling the shadows in towards it. Hanging from the dark gateway... a fluttering curtain. Harry found himself breathing heavily. That was the veil... Or a veil. Not the same as the one in the department of mysteries, that one was made of stone. So what the hell was-

“Your minute is up Harry.”

“Just give me a little more time. Need to set the scene.” Harry glanced behind him. Draco and Morfin were sprawled on the floor behind him. Harry could see their chests going up and down so he assumed they were still alive. Behind them three Lie Gou were guarding the door. In a huddled mass a group of dead men stood, silent beside them. Their rotting flesh reaching Harry's nostrils and making him gag. In the front of the group was a face Harry recognised. It was not a happy face, or a happy memory.

“Greyback.” Harry turned back to Voldemort. “I guess that explains why the werewolves are following you again. Did you have to stitch his head back on?”

“Nothing so crude. But in principal... yes.”

Harry tried desperately to think of some way out of this room. He had nothing. Why the hell was there a veil here? He needed to get out. Harry could hear Draco stirring behind him. Or was it Morfin? Damn it he wanted his eye back! How did people manage to only see in one direction?

“So...” Harry looked Voldemort in the eye. “Do we do our regular dance? You torture me for fun, I insult you, you get angry, I escape-”

“Sadly not.” Voldemort stepped forward. “I really should thank you Harry. Battling with you across these years, and especially last year, has taught me something I never wished to learn. That I am shockingly vulnerable. Oh yes... yes. It is true. Thanks to you I know that, however powerful I am, whatever knowledge I gain... all it takes is a boy with a knife and a lucky strike... and I am as weak as a newborn baby again. It is so very unfair.”

“Life's not fair.” Harry growled. “Death even less so.”

“Oh I know that now.” Voldemort nodded. “I know that I an not invulnerable. I look back on my life and realise a great many of my decisions were foolish. I have learnt. And for that I thank you. I am not foolish any more.”

Yeah right. Harry tried not to roll his eye. If you're not foolish anymore why aren't I dead? Harry chuckled to himself then froze. Wait, Voldemort didn't sound wrong. He sounded almost sincere. What if he had got smarter? Harry licked his lips. Why was he alive then? Harry heard stirring behind him. Of course, Morfin. Voldemort had recognised his long lost uncle and was... what? Confused? Or maybe... Harry tried not to glance at the table with the golden flagstone on it. There was no way that Voldemort could recognise the ring from a load of gold. Could he? And anyway the ring was just a trap? Wasn't it?

Harry began getting very very nervous.

“So...” Harry glanced at Sasori, trying to buy time. “Long time no see. How have you been?”

“Richer.” Sasori's eyebrow twitched up.

“You and your people have been keeping quiet.” Harry tried to twist his hands out of his bonds.

“We do what our client asks of us.” Sasori's accented voice had traces of cynical humour.

“I bet.” Harry smiled. “And where is... Barty... Crouch...” Harry trailed off as his eye fell on a box under one of the lab tables. It was open and the contents plainly visible. Dull grey disks, lead. Hundreds of them. Why the hell would anyone want coins made of lea-

Oh HELL no! Harry took an involuntary deep breath, then...

“That BASTARD!” Harry spat. Anger filling his veins.

Voldemort followed his gaze but Harry wasn't finished.

“Bastard, idiot, fool, everything he did was worthless!”

“And by 'he' you of course refer to...”

“Dumbledore!” Harry screamed, at that moment not caring that the person he was venting to was the dark lord. “That moron told me he destroyed it! Told me five years ago! But he never did did he? He put it right back where it was before! Probably too cowardly to actually go through with it! Or maybe he wanted it for himself. That was what Crouch stole from Gringots! That's what brought you back from the brink of death! That's how you've suddenly got all this gold! After five years you finally got it! The bloody PHYLOSOPHER'S STONE!”
________________________________________


If you don't review tinkerbell will die.

Just kidding. She won't die. But I was thinking though that that will spell the moment the world becomes truly un-savable.

Tinkerbell drinks the poison, starts to fade, the actor playing Peter Pan turns to the audience and tells them to clap if the believe in fairies and their is dead silence.

Or maybe just one clap petering out quickly as the clapper gets embarrassed. That will be the day humanity dies.

Also... on that day, the actor playing Peter Pan had better be bloody good at improvising. :)

________________________________________
Well, as you can see I've bumped the story up to a mature. I've tried to keep it 15+ for as long as possible but I guess I can't avoid it any more. Ah well, at lest my characters can swear properly now.

I don't own Harry Potter. I will if I can convince JK Rowling to give him to me though. I've been working on this Hypnosis thing...
________________________________________





The little lab was filled with deathly silence for a moment, then Voldemort uncurled his long fingers and clapped. Once. Twice. Three times.

“Very well done Mr Potter.” Voldemort cocked his head to one side. “There really were quite a few clues but well done nonetheless. But I believe your outburst had more than one purpose did it not? You wished to divide and conquer? As you know the Lie Gou will not accept magical gold you hoped to inspire our mutual friend Sasori,” Voldemort flicked a long finger at the mercenary, who still had not moved. “To attack me as you reveal that my source of means to pay him has not been entirely mundane? Am I right?”

“Something like that.” Harry said, who had been thinking nothing of the sort. It was a good plan though, especially since at the moment Harry couldn't think of a better one.

“And a year ago it would no doubt have worked.” Voldemort smiled. “But I have been more careful since you killed me. I was entirely honest with Mr Sasori about my source of income, no deception whatsoever. They were more than happy to accept gold created with the phylosopher's stone, weren't you my scorpion?”

“More than happy.” Nothing about Sasori moved except his lips. Harry almost frowned. Why had the Lie Gou reversed what was basically their only hard and fast rule?

“So you see Harry.” Voldemort turned back to his prisoners. “You cannot break my new servants from me. It is futile to try. Now... on to the important matters.” Voldemort leant down close to Harry's face, then hesitated and straightened again and stepped a pace away before continuing. “I would like to ask you a question.”

“Yes?” Harry cold feel just the merest draft on his hands. The door behind him must lead somewhere, but there was no way he could reach it. Harry found himself wishing he had his god-hand back, damn the consequences.

“I would like to know why you felt in necessary to destroy my ring.”

Dammit.

“What? So it wasn't the source of all your power?” Harry quipped desperately.

“It was not, no.” Voldemort replied almost amicably. “I assume you or one of your little friends tried to wear it?”

“I wore it.” Harry tried desperately to guess where the conversation was going. “Saw a familiar face. You've changed since your disco years. And now changed back a little?... looking a little pink around the gills Tom. What's with that?”

“One of the wonderful effects of the elixir of life.” Voldemort held out a hand and examined it smiling. “A much more pleasant means of extending one's like than dark magic or unicorn blood. It tastes like mercury you know...”

“Not like chicken?” Harry's eye noted a heavy calliper on the lab table next to him. Heavy enough to use as a club. That was if he could get his hands free. And if a club was even the slightest use against a dark wizard. Beside the calliper was a black bladed scalpel. Too small to use as a weapon but it looked magical. Would it cut magical bonds?

From under the table there came a deep hissing. A second later the thick shape of Voldemort's pet snake uncurled. Winding like a sinuous ribbon between Harry and Voldemort.

“Ignore Nagini.” Voldemort said without thinking. “Tell me about my ring.”

“What about it?” Harry said desperately. He could probably reach the scalpel with a distraction. “We found it's secret. We burnt it. End of story.”

“You found it's secret?” Voldemort seemed to steady himself. “It... it had a secret?”

“Course,” Harry bluffed. “It was the same as the diary.” Tell me what the bloody secret is.

“Ah....” Voldemort clicked his teeth. “Well I must applaud you for working it out. Does Severus know?”

“Oh yes.” Harry nodded happily. “I'm not keeping things secret from the order any-more. Guess we've both learnt.”

“I suppose we have.” Voldemort seemed to be working hard to keep himself in check.

“Knows about the other thing too.” Harry decided to take a wild gamble. “The one in the Lestrange vault.”

“He!...” Voldemort's eye's flashed red and his hands bunched into fists. The dark lord hissed from between clenched teeth. “I suppose I have dear old Slughorn to thank for all this.”

Slughorn. Harry burnt the name into his brain, then tried to decide what answer would elicit more information.

“No actually.” And would also keep whoever Slughorn was alive until he could be questioned.

“So you know about the diary...” Voldemort fixed Harry in the eye. “And the ring, and the cup. I suppose you know about the music-box as well?”

“I-...” Harry paused, he knew this trick. “No actually, did we miss that one?”

“Yes, you did.” Voldemort smiled. Harry tried to stop himself smiling. “But no matter. I have a better means of living forever now.”

Living forever. The ring and diary and... what had it been? The cup. They let him live forever? Harry's brow furrowed. Then it him like a shock... he knew what they were.

It had been when he was on his mad spree of self improvement. After he had got his eye. After he got his god-hand. He had been face to face with the lowest most curse-riddled and pockmarked flesh-monger in Delhi. He had come for a spike in his heart that would let him go without sleep and food for weeks at a time and the witch had looked him in the eye and offered him something... better. She had described it to him like a artist talking about her most prised work. She had even offered to procure a... a sacrifice. Harry had waited until her back was turned, bludgeoned her over the head with a statue and left her in a sack on the doorstep of the Indian auror headquarters. He hadn't even bothered to check whether she was still breathing. He hadn't wanted to be glad if she wasn't.

Hmm... Come to think of it clubs do sometimes work on dark wizards.

“I'm surprised you made so many.” Harry flicked his eyes up too meet the dark lord's. “Horcruxes aren't children's toys.”

Sasori shifted.

“I do not fear them.” Voldemort didn't seem to have noticed. “I am the master of my own existence now. And soon a master of all life.”

“Oh really? How's that?”

“All it takes to be a master of life,” Voldemort spread his hands. “Is to be a master of death.”

“Being able to end life doesn't make you the master of it.” Harry's eye flicked nervously to the veil in the corner of the room. Beside it there was a rough painting. In the painting a sky full of unfamiliar stars stretched out over a vast desert of grey sand, stretching away to distant mountains. Hundreds of sets of footprints headed out and away towards the horizon. None came back. This was very, very unnerving. “I assume this is the part where you tell me your evil plan?”

“No Mr Potter.” Voldemort chuckled. “This is the point where you, and each of your little friends make a choice.”

“I'll have the fish.”

“You can choose,” Voldemort continued. “To die at the teeth of Nagini,” The snake hissed and arched. “Or experience the power of death first hand.” Voldemort waved his hand towards the fluttering veil. “Choose.”

“What's beyond the veil?” Harry asked to play for time.

“That is part of what I am trying to find out Potter.” Voldemort shrugged. “The first step to control is knowledge.”

“We've both been dead Tom.” Harry clicked his neck. He had a feeling he would have to run soon. “We know what it's like.”

“Paddling in the shallows tells you little about the ocean.”

“Poetic.” A distraction.... please...

“Thank you. Have you made a choice?”

“I think-”

“SASHISA!” The inhuman cry sounded from behind Harry. Morfin's eyes had flickered open, and he was scrabbling like a mad thing against his bonds. “ZASHIKA BASTARD SAHI!”

“Morfin...” Harry muttered but it fell on deaf ears.

“SACISCA!” Morfin spat towards Nagini. The snake raised itself up and hissed back.

“Shsassi!” Voldemort barked a command.

“It's not nice to talk in a language not everyone can understand-”

“SISSIA!”

“Cazis.”

Nagini shook like a rattlesnake.

“-or even hear.”

“SACISCA!”

“It pains me that you are of my blood.” Voldemort spat.

“SACISCA ZER!” Morfin was straining against his bonds so hard his veins were like hosepipes. Harry tried to edge towards the lab table. Sasori hadn't moved.

“SACISCA!”

Harry edged. Nagini showed her fangs.

“SACISCA BITCH-SNAKE SACISCA!”

“Harry...” Draco was just coming awake, his voice full of confusion.

“Pathetic.” Voldemort raised his wand.

“SACISCA!”

“You can die like the wretch you are.” Voldemort hissed. “Avada-”

“You know why the Lie Gou are helping you!” Harry yelled desperately, flinging his first thought into the air. “They don't accept fake gold but they do betray their clients! They want the stone for themselves!”

Voldemort's eyes widened.

“NOW!” Sasori moved like a cat, his wand appearing in his hand and flashing to the dark lord. A blinding ark of light flashed into the dark lord's hastily raised shield, catapulting him back into the wall.

“What do you know?” Harry thought as he threw himself at the lab table. “I was right.” He rolled, his fingers touching the knife and he dropped down the other side like a stone.

Nagini turned and lunged at Harry but Morfin leapt on top of her. The giant snake spun and bit down hard. Blood fountained like a geyser.

Harry worked the knife against his bonds. It was working! Faster!

The Lie Gou at the door drew their wands but the dead men were all around them. Harry saw the corpse of Greyback grab an arm and tear it from it's socket.

Faster! One of the ropes was loose.

Morfin toppled to the floor but even as he did a whiff of darkness flew from his sleeve and struck Nagini in the eye. Smokey! Biting again and again like a piston into the larger snake. Nagini tried to twist to bring her teeth to bear but the little snake was too quick, biting again and again!

One of the ropes was cut through! One more! Harry could see Draco grabbing a knife from a fallen Lie Gou.

“TRAITORS!” Voldemort rose in a flickering aura of flame and rage. Flickering shadows of darkness filled the room and the veil blew like it was caught in a gale. “I will destroy all of you!”

Sasori didn't answer, merely threw a savage lightning bolt that drove Voldemort back. The dark lord hissed and flung a hand forward. The black shapes in the air flew together around Sasori, swallowing him up in darkness for a moment before an explosion of flame. Harry was thrown to the floor in the mass of burning mana, his weakened bonds snapping under the strain. Harry tried to stagger to his feet but dropped a moment later as a flash of green shot over his head. With a screeching yell the door was thrust open. Bellatrix staggered back into the room, ten more Lie Gou following her. The screaching witch turned and her eyes widened as she saw Harry free.

“You! You li-”

She got no further as Harry flashed his hand forward. The dark scalpel spun from his hand and stabbed through the bitch's eye.

Harry ducked behind the lab desk again. He couldn't see Draco anymore, Harry hoped to god he was hiding somewhere too. He needed his bloody eye! Harry crawled forwards, ducking as a whirling pinwheel of flame came flashing overhead. A body came flying afterwards. Harry darted over and grabbed the man's wand.

“Accio eye!” Harry held out his hand and felt his familiar orb fly into it. He shoved it eagerly back into his socket and saw the world come back. “Oh my god!” The dark shapes in the air were everywhere, streaming through the walls!

Harry had to dodge desperately as a ball of darkness shattered the wall behind him. The air screamed with some sort of banshee howl. The veil was streaming like a flag in a hurricane. Harry's eye whirled. Draco! He was... smart. Lying down beside a pile of bodies with a cloak over him. Lying low.

Voldemort was being driven back, there were too many Lie Gou for him. Sasori was out in front, still silent. The screaming in the air got louder, the dark shapes filling the air were screaming. All of them had empty eyes. Harry screamed as one passed through his chest. If felt like ice.

“You've lost Tom Riddle!” Sasori broke his silence. “You're outnumbered!”

Voldemort threw a killing curse at the assassin, who dodge effortlessly. The dark lord held out a hand and Harry saw a shining speck of gold fly from one of the tables. His eye picked it out, a gold medallion carved with a grinning devil. Voldemort flicked it around his neck and turned, leaping backwards. He threw a wall of darkness behind him and, without hesitation, darted directly through the veil.

There was a moment of silence, the spirits on the air went still. Harry didn't move, the Lie Gou would kill him as quick as Voldemort would.

“Well...” Sasori lowered his wand. “That went well-”

The veil exploded outwards like a dark wall of hell. The wind screamed so hard Harry had to clamp his hands over his ears. The shadows swallowed one of the Lie Gou, stripping him down to bones in moments.

Harry scrambled under the table and dashed across the floor. A screaming shape slashed at his face, tearing off lines in blood. Harry slashed out with his wand, summoning fire to blast the thing away. It barely phased it.

“DRACO!” Harry stumbled to the floor, grabbing Morfin's leg. Draco leapt up from his place on the floor, and skidded towards him. The dark shapes surrounded him as soon as he moved.

“Eiectio!” Harry yelled desperately and the wraiths were thrown away. Draco fell forward and Harry grabbed his outstretched hand. Harry squeezed his eyes shut and yelled, “Spinners end!”

His eye whirled in it's socket and Harry felt a jerk at his navel. The dark screams cut out as the power of the portkey whirled them away from the earthly face of hell. Harry felt the ground hit him like a wall and lay there for a minute, catching his breath.

“Your eye...” Draco was gasping on the ground. “Your eye was a portkey.”

“Snape did it.” Harry shuddered, his muscles shaking. “Emergency backup.”

“You had that all along?”

“Yep.” Harry looked around weakly. Morfin... Harry staggered over to the limp shape on the ground. He knew it was no good to try to find a pulse. His eye told him everything he needed to know.

“Is he dead?” Draco asked. Harry didn't answer, it wasn't necessary.

A faint hissing sounded from the body and Harry saw Smokey rise slowly from the body of his master, his little head darting this way and that. Harry met the little Snake's eyes and pushed just a little. The animal mind was surprisingly cogent. It knew what had happened, it knew why it had happened. It wasn't angry, it was just... sad.

Harry held out his hand gingerly. The snake hesitated. Harry pushed into it's eyes again and it slithered slowly onto his hand and up his sleeve. Harry tried not to grimace as it curled around his arm near the elbow.

“Where are we?” Draco was standing, looking around nervously.

“Field north of Hogwarts.” Harry waved his wand over Morfin's body, cleaning the blood. Another wave and the air around the body coalesced, freezing into a casket.

“What are you doing?” Draco stepped over, limping a little. “Shouldn't we just take him back to Hogwarts?”

“We're not going back to Hogwarts. Snape's on a mission somewhere and we don't have time to find him. Got to fall back into the old habits for a while.” Harry took the marauder's badge out of his pocket and quickly sent a message before jabbing his wand forward. God he hoped this worked... “Expecto Patronum.”

White mist flashed to solid form and whispered away on long thin wings. It spun in the air and floated off towards Hogwarts.

“That'll find McGonagall. Tell her to find this Slughorn and look after him.” Harry turned back towards the grave and stopped for a moment.

“Harry tell me what the hell is going on.” Draco growled.

“I'll tell you when we meet the others.” Harry reached out and grabbed Draco's arm. “We've got to go.”

“No.” Draco knocked the arm away angrily. “Where do you want to go?”

“Erg! Look....” Harry held his head in his hands. “Didn't you hear what I said? Voldemort has Hocruxes! Do you know what they are?”

“No, I don't.”

“They... I don't have time to explain it!” Harry yelled. “They're VERY BAD THINGS. That he has! And there is at least one more that we haven't burnt yet. There may be others, don't know where they are, but I know where one of them is. That's the good bit. Bad bit is that Voldemort knows too. And I'm not letting that snake faced bastard get there first! I know he's on his way there now. I just... I just know.”

“The vault...” Draco whispered. “You want to break into Gringots. You want to break into Gringots now.”

“I want to break into Gringots now.”
*


Black robed figures spilled out of Knockturn Alley. The light flashed off the skull masks as the screaming began. The figures made straight for the doors of the bank. Goblins slammed the doors shut with a crack. Every window filled with gringos goblins, each one holding something sharp and crackling with electricity. One of them fired down at the robed figures, a lightning bolt of shining silver light. A hasty shield reflected it into the sky.

More bolts rained down, coming thick and fast. The goblins had prepared, they weren't going to be caught out again.

Shields flashed and the death eaters were driven back. One or two of them tried to respond but the spells went wide as the goblin blitzkrieg intensified. Then, suddenly, the death eaters broke, spun, and ran away in disarray. The goblins sending jeers to follow them.

They dashed back into the alley and crashed into a shop. Pushing the stunned shopkeeper out of the way they threw themselves into the flue one after another.
*


After the last figure had emerged from the chimney Ginny pulled her hood back and took off her mask.

“That went well.” Split said dryly as he too pulled off his disguise.

“I wonder if Harry and the others got in?” Neville was biting his lip.

“We did our part right.” Ginny nodded. “So they should have too.”
*


Harry, Draco, Padma and the Weasley twins had already been in the band when the 'Attack' started. Harry had picked a Gringots goblin running for safety and surreptitiously aimed his wand...

“Imperio.” The goblin slowed to a crawl, it's expression going glassy. Harry turned back to the other marauders. “It worked, come on.”

The hypnotized goblin walked down a side corridor, followed by the invisible marauders. Harry flicked his wand and mentally ordered the goblin to take them to the Lestrange vault. After a moment where it's green features twisted like it was resisting it turned and got into one of the waiting mine carts. Harry and the others followed.

Harry shuddered as the mine cart started off. He didn't like doing this. The goblins weren't evil, they just had a different definition of good to humanity's. But Harry hadn't been able to think up of anything approaching another plan. Well there was nothing to be done now...

“Is this going to work Harry?” Draco asked quietly.

“We'll get to the vault.” Harry shrugged. “Getting back will be more tricky. Which is why we have masks... and robes... and I have grenades.”

“And do you think they'll believe we're death eaters? Despite the fact there are only supposed to be two left.”

“Look Draco I had exactly twelve seconds to think up this plan. Didn't see you coming up with anything better.”

“You're the plan person.” Fred chimed in.

Why am I the freeking plan person. Harry thought, but with the vague knowledge that this would not be the most calming thing to say he replaced it with, “Shut up and watch the hypno-goblin.”

Harry watched the walls fly past for a few more minutes. By now the attack on the alley would be breaking up. The goblin guards would be going back to their posts. The cart rumbled loudly along the tracks. Harry hoped to hell they didn't track the carts somehow.

“Do you think he knew?” Draco muttered quietly.

“Who?” Even Harry's twisty brain couldn't work that one out.

“Morfin.”

“Knew what?” Harry hesitated, Draco was speaking so the other's wouldn't be able to hear.

“The snake. He was pulling the snake towards him.” Draco was staring out into the dark. “Do you think he knew what he was doing... drawing it away from us or was he just being... crazy.”

“Why are you asking me this?” Harry shrugged.

“I want to know...” Draco closed his eyes. “Just want to know.”

“You just want to know?” Harry sighed, he had no idea why he was being asked this question. Which made choosing the lie difficult. “Then yes. I think he knew what he was doing.”

“You do? Why?”

“Because that's what people like him do.”

“What do you mean people like him?”

“Heroes.” Harry shrugged.

“You think he was a hero? He was insane. And a vigilante.”

“Well you know me...” Harry chuckled. “I prefer flawed heroes.”

“Hm...” Draco fell silent for a moment. Then he laughed flatly. “Are we flawed heroes?”

“Don't know.” Harry glanced towards the goblin sitting blankly in the front of the cart. “We're certainly flawed.”

They fell back into silence as the cart trundled on.

“Are we nearly the-” George started before the cart screeched to a halt.

Harry glanced around. Blank tunnel. No doors. Harry was about to open his mouth when a screaming alarm came out of nowhere.

“Masks!” Harry slammed his back on and leapt out of the cart. He cursed, the wheels had welded to the track. He flicked his wand at the goblin.

TAKE US TO THE VAULT

I can't. Against the rules...

TAKE US TO THE LESTRANGE VAULT

The goblin shuddered and trotted off down the corridor.

“Follow him!” Harry yelled over the shrieking alarm. The marauders were already masked, wands out. Harry led them after the staggering goblin. It hesitated in the middle of the tunnel.

TAKE US TO THE VAULT

Stupid voice.

Damnit! Harry spun the goblin around to face him and pushed into his brain. Flashes of vaults, tunnels...

LET ME IN

A route, a turning, a dragon. A dragon!? A door.

HOW DO I OPEN THE DOOR

Only a Gringots goblin...

WHY? WHAT ARE THE CHARMS?

Don't know. Only a Gringots goblin.

Damnit. Harry gritted his teeth. That meant they still needed the goblin. Harry pushed into his mind as hard as he could.

TAKE US TO THE VAULT

Won't work. Door won't open if the goblin is enchanted.

Harry's eyes flashed wide open. No...

Suddenly a bolt of electricity crackled through the darkness above Harry's head. His eye gave his maybe a split seconds warning. His legs buckled without thought and he rolled, stabbing his wand out and firing at the vague shape in the distance. Another bolt flew from behind and Harry leapt to the wall. The air sparkled with bolts as the marauders ducked for cover. The goblin stood there stupidly.

HIDE!

The goblin fell forward with a smile on his face. Harry aimed his wand at the shapes ahead and shot a stunner. Behind him he could hear the marauders fighting on the other side. Harry felt the rock explode over his head and leapt out of the way of the cave-in.

God this was messy. Harry was the only one who could see anything with the darkness and the flashes and the goblins in amongst the humans and the falling rocks. Harry screamed as a bolt cut into his leg. It hadn't even been aimed at him.

“Incendio!” Harry stabbed his wand at the minecart, which exploded with flame. Harry spun and slammed his fist into the goblin behind him. The freaking things were everywhere! Fingers closed around Harry's neck and he was jerked backwards. He tried to fire over his shoulder but his wand was jerked out of his hand. There were two of them! Fingers gripped round and slammed into his eyesocket. If it had been the real one it would have been squashed like a grape. Harry forced himself to his feet and slammed backwards into the wall. The hands loosened for a moment but then came on harder. His eye swivelled in it's socket and he could see the screaming goblins clawing at his neck. He slammed back again but this time it didn't even phase them.

Can't breath.

Of course you can't breath!

Harry dropped to his knees, desperately trying to pull the hands off his neck. He couldn't even get them to budge. Black dots floated in front of his eye. He was fading...

“Sssss!”

Smokey leapt out of Harry's sleeve and the fingers disappeared like mist. Harry spun and punched the fearful goblin behind him. His fingers darted to the floor and grabbed the Goblin's shock-stick, with a flick he shot the thing at the other goblins chest. The grey creature was thrown back against the wall and fell, stunned.

Harry's eye found Smokey on the floor, rising to bite. Harry grabbed him by the head. If the little snake bit a goblin that goblin would be very dead. Harry met the snake's eyes but saw only rage and animal hatred. Harry quietly stunned him and dropped him in his pocket.

He turned and saw the other marauders picking themselves up out of the rubble.

“Everyone alive?” Harry coughed roughly.

“We're aright.” Fred was pulling his brother up off the floor. “George got hit but I think he's aright.”

“How about the goblins?”

“We used stunners.” Draco said as Harry scooped his wand back up. “They-” Draco paused. “Do you hear that?”

“Hear what?” Harry's eye spun it's socket. “No.”

“Rushing sound.” Draco cocked his head like a dog.

“Not all of us have wolf senses.” Harry growled. “Where is it coming from?”

“Behind us..”

Harry focussed his eye, cutting through stone....

“RUN!” Harry spun, grabbed their goblin guide and belted down the corridor. “RUN!”

“What is it!?”

“Tidal wave!”

“What do you mean 'Tidal wave'” Padma yelled.

“Stop asking questions and RUN!”

Harry reached a branch and chose based of faint flashes from the goblins memory. He risked a glance behind him and saw water bearing down.

“We're not going to make it! Hit the floor!” Harry threw himself to the ground and shielded the goblin underneath him. The roaring water caught up with him and Harry felt it crash over them like a wall.

WHAT IS THIS?

Thief's downfall. Washes away enchantments.

Harry gripped his wand but the water was gone almost as soon as it had come. The goblin under him began to squirm and Harry realized that the imperio must have been whipped clean.

“Imperio!” That had sounded wrong! The spell fizzled and the goblin's eyes narrowed. Harry was pushed off and the grey creature dissipated into the darkness. Harry staggered to his feet and tried to yell.

PAIN.

Harry put a hand to his throat. It didn't feel right at all. Somewhere in his leg something snapped and Harry howled in pain. He stumbled forward but one of his legs seemed longer than the other. With another stab of pain the other leg slammed down and Harry was thrown to the ground. Everywhere on his skin was crawling like worms. Harry shuddered and tried to crawl forward.

What the hell was happening.

Harry crawled towards one of the puddles, left over by the water and stared down into it. He pulled his mask off and a face that wasn't his own looked back. His fake eye was the same but the other had changed from emerald green to pale hazel. His hair had faded from black to brown and was hanging in lank curls, soaked like a dead rat. With a nauseating snap his face changed too, getting broader and flatter. Harry's shaking fingers came up, exploring the new features... what the hell...

Then suddenly he realized what had happened.

The thief's downfall washed away enchantment. All enchantment, even Dumbledore's. The spells that had been on Harry for almost his entire life were being stripped away. It wasn't that he was looking at a face that wasn't his. It was that he was finally was.

He finally looked like himself.

“Drop the wand.” Harry felt the point of a wand pushed against the back of his neck. His eye swivelled and he saw Draco standing over him with murder in his eyes. “Drop the wand you bastard. And tell me what the hell you've done with Harry!”
________________________________________




If you don't review then your hard drive will turn into cheese. To be precise, edam. It will be tasty, but it will no longer function as a hard drive.

________________________________________
I do not own Harry Potter. I do however claim him as a dependent on expenses. This is fully within the rules and I do not believe I have done anything wrong however I can see that the British public do not agree. As such have resigned from cabinet and will pay the money back. I regret the trouble I have caused to our useless prime minister.
________________________________________


I just cannot catch a freaking break.

“Draco...”

“Drop the wand!”

“Ok... Ok...” Harry carefully placed his wand on the ground next to him. “But I am Harry. I can't explain, not right now but... I am.”

“Do you think we're idiots?” Draco flicked the wand off the ground. The other marauders were crowded around him, their wands out as well. Harry slowly turned around, keeping his hands up.

“It's... It's complicated.” Harry was breathing hard. “I know it's hard to... but I am the same person I always was.”

“You don't even sound the same.” Padma pointed out.

“I just... Please for the love of god you just have to believe me!” Harry glanced into the darkness. “The goblins aren't done you know, they'll be coming back! You think you can go in, get the cup and get out, with a prisoner?”

“I wasn't intending to take a prisoner.” Draco growled.

“Really? Do you know where the vault is?” Harry's eyes narrowed. “I do. Don't believe me. Fine. But you need me! Believe me if you want even the slightest chance of getting the bloody Horcrux you need me. I will explain everything. Believe me. But we need to go. Now.”

Draco hesitated...

“Please Draco...” Harry pleaded. “For the love of god please...”

“Fine.” Draco stepped back. “First take off your coat. And your bag. All your weapons.”

“Got a few hours?”

“Now!”

“Fine.” Harry shucked his coat off and threw it to his friends then stood. “Can we go now?”

Harry turned and walked off down the corridor. No one tried to stop him. No one tried to follow him either.

“Look at it this way.” Harry turned. “Is turning into someone else half way through the heist really the strangest thing I've ever done?”

The marauders began to hesitantly move.

“Thank you.” Harry threw his hands up and hurried off down the corridor.

“Hey!” A stunner exploded over his head. Harry turned to see Draco pointing his wand at him. “Don't try to get away.”

“Yes, I'm trying to escape down a tunnel underground.” Harry growled back at the marauders. “Where the hell would I go?”

“Just stay where I can see you.” Draco's wand hadn't dipped an inch.

Harry glared flatly at him before starting back down the damn cave. They kept going in silence, Harry choosing turning based on vague guesswork and flashes of memory.

“How far is it?” Padma asked suddenly.

“Two more turnings... I think.”

“You think?” Draco asked sharply.

“Yeah, I think.” Harry ignored the wand at his back (moments from blasting him to oblivion) and carried on. As they got closer Harry's eye began to show him a cavern stretching out before them, far larger than the caves. And in the middle. “Damnit, I thought that was what the goblin said...”

“What?”

“Dragon.” Harry turned the final corner and crouched down behind a bolder. “Look for yourselves.” The marauders peeked out to see the vast wyrm, chained in front of the massive door. It's eyes were milky and white, it's skin too.

“It doesn't look too healthy.” Padma said thoughtfully. “And there are five of us.”

“Four.” Draco broke in. Harry rolled his eyes but Padma nodded.

“Four of us. If we all stun it at the same time it might go down. That's what they did in the triwizard tournament.”

“What about the door?” Fred scratched his head. “I don't thing we'll be able to break the locking spells.”

“We don't need to.” Draco moved to stand. “We just need to find another goblin.”

“That won't work.” Harry hissed. “The other goblin told me before we were attacked. The doors can tell if the goblins are moving of their own free will.”

“And you only mention this now?” Draco narrowed his eyes.

“Well between the fight and the death threats I didn't really get a chance.” Harry paused, that time even he heard the change in his voice. He had an Irish accent. Dumbledore had even changed that!. He glanced back at the vault. “I think I see a way to get through...”

“Tell me the spell then.” Draco said sharply.

“It's not so much a spell, and I don't think you'd be able to do it anyway.”

“Don't even think you're getting your wand back.” Draco laughed bitterly.

“You know I'm getting real tired of this-”

“Then tell me who you are!”

“I don't have time and you won't believe me.”

“Then how can I believe anything you say?”

“You-... Fine.” Harry stood, registering the shock in his friend's eyes. “I don't need a wand.” With that he vaulted over the rock and began walking down the slope towards the dragon.

“HEY!” The great beast raised it's head. “Over here!”

Harry had to dodge a gout of flame. The lizard was old but it was fast. Dashed to the left and the creature lumbered to follow him. He crossed in front of it, rolling out of the way of a fireball, and kept moving.

The chains around it's arms twisted into one another, kinking.

Harry ran back the other way. The beast leapt forward, raking it's claws through the air. Harry's hand twitched to a wand that was no longer there and ducked at the last minute. He threw himself forward, leaping under the out-flung arm. His boots bit stone and he leapt over the whipping tail that threatened to cut his legs out from under him and dashed back out of the dragon's range.

The chain twisted around a stalactite.

Harry ran for the entrance to the vault, rolling under an orb of flame that left a scorch mark on the wall and made the cave shake. He skidded to a stop before the iron door and the wyrm turned to face him. It tried to step forward but it's twisted chain wouldn't let it reach the any more. Instead it breathed deep and belched out a fireball. Harry twisted to the side and felt his eyebrows burn off as the dragon-flame passed right in front of him. The fireball exploded against the vault door, turning it cherry red.

“Yeah! More!” Harry yelled at the dragon. “Come on!” A lance like a flamethrower forced him to the floor and made him cry out in pain as it struck his shoulder a glancing blow. His shirt was on fire. So was his skin. Harry rolled to put out the flames and tore off the scorched fabric. Another fireball pin-wheeled over his head and struck the hinge of the door. Parts of it were almost incandescent white.

Harry dashed the way he'd come, waiting for the dragon to turn and follow. The chain clicked off the stalactite, springing like a fishing line. Harry reversed direction and ran back in front of the door.

“Over here!” Harry yelled at the no-longer-constrained dragon. “Come and get me!”

The dragon roared and lunged, shoving one car-sized claw at the boy. He leapt to the side as the claw crashed through the weakened metal with a horrific screech. The dragon reared up on it's hind legs, it's claw a red mess of molten metal and blood. Suddenly four stunners slammed into it's unprotected underside. The great beast teetered for a moment, then another four struck it in the head and it fell like a tree. Crashing down onto the rock.

Harry turned to see the marauders rushing to join him.

“He must be Harry.” Fred was smiling broadly. “No one but Harry could have pulled that off.”

“He's proved he's crazy he hasn't proved he's Harry.” Draco brushed past Harry and continued towards the vault.

“You're welcome!” Harry called after him before following him into the vault. The marauders stopped as they moved into the middle of the room. Golden things glittered from every direction.

“Wow...” George's eyes glittered.

“Touch nothing.” Harry's eye spun in his socket. “It was supposed to be a cup... there!” Harry stepped forward and felt his feet weld to the floor.

“Where?” Draco moved into view.

“Did you do this to my feet?”

“Where?”

“Cos if you did do this to my feet I will break your neck. Don't think that wand will stop me!”

Draco raised one eyebrow slowly then punched Harry in the face. Harry tried to stay upright but his feet wouldn't move and he fell backwards, landing on his elbows and slamming onto the floor. Draco's face came into view above him.

“Where?”

“Over by the corner.” Harry pointed. Draco's looked over. Harry resisted the urge to grab his legs, jerk them out from under the blond bastard, throw him to the floor then punch him in the stomach and break his arm before taking back his wand and breaking his neck. Resisted. Barely. “By the vases.”

Draco moved off as Harry levered himself to his feet.

“Thanks for helping.” Harry glared at the rest of the marauders.

“Are you really Harry?” Padma narrowed her eyes.

“I'm who I always was.” Harry shrugged.

“That was evasive.”

“Don't have time to explain.” Harry looked over at where Draco was reaching for the cup. He momentarily considered not telling him about the curses on the cup. Momentarily considered it, and decided it was a great idea.

“OW!”

“Look out for the flagrante curse!” Harry called out cheerfully.

“DAMNIT!”

“And the gemino!” Harry laughed as he saw Draco drop the cup on the floor, scores of other cups appearing out of the air.

“The counter for the gemino is unicus unicus unicus?” Harry called out again. “I'll tell you the flagrante counter if you give me back my damn wand!”

Draco came back into view without looking at Harry, stalking past him and out of the vault.

“Hey! Are you gonna just leave me here?” Harry tried to move his feet. “Come on!”

Padma stepped hesitantly up to him and aimed her wand at his feet.

“There had better be a explanation for all of this.” She said, before murmuring the finite.

Harry felt his feet come free and hurriedly dashed out of the vault after Draco. The slytherin was almost to the Dragon when Harry's eye caught a flash from a side tunnel.

“Back in the vault!” Harry yelled. But he wasn't quick enough. Before Draco had time to even turn a bolt hit him full in the chest, throwing him to the floor. The cup clattered out of his hands. Goblins funnelled out of tunnels and Harry was forced back into the vault. “Summon Draco!” Harry yelled to the other marauders as he dived through the ruined vault door. A moment later the cup and it's stunned carrier flew after him.

Bolts flew through the open door like horizontal rain. Harry dashed towards a weird gold chair and kicked it in front of the door, he ducked behind it and grabbed the arm, ignoring the burning pain in his own. Copies of the chair fell out of nowhere, piling on top of one another in front of the door.

Harry dashed back and grabbed his wand off Draco's prone body. He spun around to see three wands pointing straight at him.

“Oh COME ON!” Harry yelled. “Either shoot me or shut up!” Harry pushed past them and aimed his wand over his barricade. “Rennervate!”

There was a roar as the dragon was rudely awakened. The bolts stopped for a moment as the goblins decided they had bigger things to worry about.

“Do you think we can burst past them?” Fred was gripping his wand fiercely.

“I doubt it.” Harry stepped backwards. It was beginning to look like he had regained his true face only to die in it. He hadn't planned this enough. Hadn't had a plan, but what else could he have done?

“Harry...”

“I don't know.” Harry glanced back at the barricade. The roars had stopped. The bolts had begun again. “I don't know.” Harry held his wand grimly. Really should have planned this better... And there was no help...

A flash of flame burst from behind the marauders. Harry spun with his wand out but it dipped a moment afterwards. Harry's mouth fell open in shock.

“That's...” Padma pointed. “That's a...”

“Phoenix.” Harry stepped forward. The bird looked at him, apparently un-phased by the bolts hitting the ceiling. Harry had no idea why it was there, but he wasn't about to kick a gift horse in the mouth. “Grab a feather!” Harry ordered the other marauders, grabbing Draco and pulling him towards the bird. It hopped forward and onto his outstretched arm. The phoenix's beady eye's met Harry's. Flames curled around them just as the barricade broke down.
*


Harry fell onto grass and felt claws leave his arm. He opened his eyes and saw the phoenix flapping away calmly, giving no sign of why it had come.

“Where are we?” Harry glanced around and saw more marauders than he was expecting. Ginny and the others were staring at him in shock. The phoenix had brought them to the rendezvous point. Harry stood and dusted himself off. “Well that went well.” Harry smiled. “Someone want to wake Draco?”

“Who the hell are you?” Ginny's hand was hovering near her wand.

“Oh yeah...” Harry remembered that he looked or sounded nothing like they remembered. “I guess this is kind of confusing...”

“Yes Harry.” Padma said to general shock. “I believe you have an explanation to give.”

“Oh yeah. I guess I have.” Harry took a deep breath. “We should go back to Hogwarts though, they'll be worried and this'll take awhile.”

“No.” Padma crossed her arms. “Right now.”

“Ah... ok.” Harry reached into his bag and pulled his tent out, tapping it once to enlarge it to full size. “You'd better go inside, this is going to be a long story...”

In the end he told them the same way Dumbledore had told him. Flatly, with no shock. It was really the only way, the only way to tell someone that the entire world was different to the way they thought it was. Like telling someone that, contrary to everything they knew, the sky was really orange. He tried not to look at their faces as he spoke. It was like he was stripping naked, bearing everything to them. All the marauders were there, and in a way that was worse. The original marauders, the core, he knew like family. But the others, the ones that had joined when he was away last year, not so much. Some of them had probably joined because he was Harry Potter. Because they trusted the prophecy, because they trusted that he could destroy Voldemort. And now... he was just some guy. Just some kid who had been pushed in over his head and forced to survive. Constantly on the edge of drowning and having to claw for every drop of air. Getting his real face back should have made him feel happy. Telling his friends should have made him feel happy. Instead he felt... tired.

“...And in the end I decided to keep being Harry Potter.” Harry fished lamely. “Because, much as I hate what Dumbledore did, he was right. People need to see the chosen one out there fighting. It doesn't matter what I want.”

There was a long, dark silence. Harry could see shock and horror painted on every face.

“It... it makes sense.” Hermione was the first to speak. “It's horrible but... it makes sense. Even the bit about you not having a name. That would explain why you, the real you, never received a Hogwarts invite, why your name was never written in the Hogwarts books. That was probably part of the reason Dumbledore chose you. There would be no record for anyone to find. ”

“I don't know. Possibly.” Harry shrugged. “He didn't tell me why he chose me. There can't have been that many orphaned magical children of the right age to choose from. I always thought I just got the short straw.”

“So you don't even have a real name?” Neville asked quietly.

“The orphanage called me Jack.” It hurt to say that name. More and more Harry thought of Jack as what he would get when all this was finally over. When the world didn't need Harry Potter anymore. When he could finally rest. He didn't tell them that though, “But I'm not comfortable with that name yet. If you could just keep calling me Harry that would be good.”

“Look at me.” Draco said suddenly, still sounding angry. “Look into my eyes.”

“You don't believe me?” Harry complied, meeting Draco's gaze. “It's would be kind of an elaborate lie to think up.”

“Shut up.” Draco commanded and Harry felt a stabbing pain behind his eyes. Draco wasn't bothering to be gentle with his probing. Harry supposed he couldn't blame him. Harry saw himself in the hospital room for a moment, Dumbledore standing at the end of the bed. Harry turned his mental gaze away, letting Draco view the images alone. Harry had no need to relive that day. Eventually the mental probe subsided and Draco leant back, his face dropping from anger to shock. “It's true. It's all true...”

“You didn't want to believe it.” Harry nodded. “Neither did I.”

“So wait, I'm confused.” Ron scratched his head. “What does this mean for the prophecy? I thought Harry Potter, um... the other Harry Potter, was the only one who could kill you-know-who. So if he's dead does that mean that...”

“It means nothing.” Harry cut in. He had to head off this line of conversation quickly. “It's bull. You trying to tell me that if someone walked up to Voldemort and chopped his head off with a machete that somehow he wouldn't die.”

“Well no, he wouldn't.” Padma pointed out. “Because of the Hocruxs.”

“Which we can destroy.” Harry said quickly. “Which anyone can destroy. Anyone with appropriate tools. Don't need cannon Harry for that. And besides; Pythea thinks I can defeat Voldemort and no-one knows more about prophecy works than her.”

There was a murmuring of accent from around the tent. Harry breathed an internal sigh of relief, at least he had headed off that disaster.

“So what do we do now?” Split raised an eyebrow.

“What do you mean what do we do now?” Harry shrugged. “We head back to Hogwarts, probably in the morning, it's too late now. And then we keep assisting the order and Snape to take down Voldemort.”

“You mean we just act like northing's changed?” Hermione asked, aghast.

“Nothing has changed.” Harry pointed out. “I'm still the same person I was yesterday. Voldemort's still out there. The Lie Gou are still a threat. Nothing's changed.” Nothing ever changes. Except when it gets worse. “And when we go back to Hogwart's I'll find someone who can put my face back on and no one will know any different.”

“And you're aright with that?”

“Yes.” No. “World needs heroes. Harry Potter is... like my secret identity. Like spiderman.”

“Who?” Ron's brow furrowed.

“Never mind.” Harry hung his head tiredly. “We should all probably take a little time to rest. It's been a long day.”

And when we go back to Hogwarts it all begins again.
*


It was hours later and Harry was sitting outside the tent looking up at the stars when he heard footsteps approaching behind him.

“Harry?... Jack?.... Person?”

“My name hasn't changed.” Harry chuckled into the night air. “I thought everybody was asleep?”

“I couldn't.” Padma stepped up beside Harry and sat down. “It's just too much to take in at once.”

“Imagine how I felt.”

“I don't have to imagine. I remember.” Padma shrugged. “You went crazy for a while, then Pythea made you better.”

“Yep.”

“She does that a lot doesn't she.” Padma raised an eyebrow.

“Do you have any specific point?” Harry rolled his eye.

“I think you know.” Padma smiled then looked away as Harry laughed. “You even laugh differently. It sounds higher.”

“Irisher probably.” Harry tried to hear his own voice but it sounded even stranger to him, it was probably some sort of psychosomatic thing. “I haven't really got used to it yet.”

“What are you going to do when we go back to Hogwarts? Are you really going to ask someone to put you back the way you were?”

“I guess I'll have to...” Harry bit his lip. The prospect was surprisingly unpalatable. “I don't know if we'll be able to get the whole package back but we should at least be able to get the face. I can fake the voice if I have to, give me a little more time... this better?”

“Deeper.”

“Better?”

“Say something else.”

“You do know that if someone asks you to say something you instantly forget every word you ever knew?”

“That's a little better.” Padma nodded. “We can work on it. Try more emotion.”

“Should I be angrier?”

“More bitter than angry.”

“Oh great thanks.”

“Perfect.”

“Are you being sarcastic?”

“Partially.”

“Should I be more sarcastic?”

“Definitely.”

“Now you're making fun of me.” Harry chuckled. “Hm, just proves I'm back to normal.” Harry leant back on the grass. “I got my own face, we got out alive, got the cup, beat up a bunch of goblins and I danced with a dragon. I call that a win.”

“I wonder how much of that gold got destroyed in the fires?”

“Depends how much Fred and George stuffed in their pockets.”

“They didn't...”

Harry tapped his eye.

“They did. I'm not surprised.” Padma shook her head, chuckling. “Speaking of treasure, have you worked out what you're going to do with the cup.”

“Well... I have one idea.” Harry looked up into the sky. “But I don't know if it'll work...”

“Is it dangerous?”

“Well, no not particularly.”

“So why don't you try it.”

“Good point.” Harry stood up and closed his eyes. Help me.

“Harry what are you-” Padma trailed off as a flash of fire lit up the night. Harry opened his eyes to see two phoenixes looking at him quizzically. Harry stepped close to them and placed the cup on the ground next to the birds.

“Would you mind flaming this thing for me.” The larger phoenix hopped forward and looked up at Harry. Harry felt a little thought push towards him, it seemed to be saying... why. “It belonged to Voldemort.” Head cocked left. “It helped him come back from the dead.” Head cocked right. Bob. The larger bird hopped next to the cup and spread it's wings. Harry shielded his eyes as the birds feathers turned to crimson flame.

“You just spent an hour explaining to everyone how you're not the chosen one.” Padma said quietly from behind him. “So what exactly are you?”

“I have no idea.” Harry admitted, his eyes sparkling with reflected fire. After a few moments both the flames subsided and the bird was gone, flamed away back to where it came from. All that was left of the cup was a pitted scrap of metal.

“Do you think there are more of them?” Padma asked as Harry picked it up off the floor.

“More Hocruxes? No way to tell.” Harry stood and looked back towards the tent. “Should probably head back to Hogwarts. They'll be worrying.”
*


It was still dark as the marauders alighted on the grass outside the gates of Hogwarts. Harry took out his wand and aimed it at himself.

“Harry what are you doing?” Draco asked.

“Dissilusioning.” Harry said the charm and felt the cold fingers of invisibility enclosing him. “No one should see me like this.”

“Oh, right.”

“We need to get to Snape, he'll be able to get me back looking like... like Harry.” Harry felt that strange reluctance again but squashed it down. It was necessary to stay under the mask. It was necessary. “You guys head to the common rooms, you all deserve some proper sleep.”

Harry walked up to the silent castle and proceeded to the dungeons. Harry stopped outside Snape's door and took a deep breath before knocking.

“Come in.” Snape sounded like he was angry.

Harry pushed the door in and stepped into the dark office.

“Mr Potter.” Snape had his back turned and was slowly measuring out a foul green liquid into a beaker. “Have you came to offer an explanation as to why I have taken Horance Slughorn into protective custody? Why a short mission that should have taken a short count of hours at most and only involved you and Mr Malfoy has taken half of Hogwarts and almost twenty four hours? Would you like to explain why Morfin Gaunt is dead! Would you like to explain why death eaters attacked diagon alley? And do not TRY to pretend that you were not-”

“Snape turn around.” Harry interrupted.

“Potter do not try-” Snape's head snapped around. His eyes widened. “You...”

“Me.” Harry shrugged. “I'll explain everything, but I need you to do something about this face. Please.”

“So this is what you looked like bef...” Snape whispered quietly. Then more forcefully. “Release your mental blocks.”

Harry sighed, but complied. A force pushed it's way into his mind. Flashes of the past day flickered past like bits of a past life. Harry just relaxed as every detail was wrung out like dirty laundry. Apple trees... relax.

The images stopped and Harry opened his eyes. Snape pushed past him roughly.

“Hey! Where are you going!”

“I know the place you were held, the place where the dark lord's lab was.” Snape pushed the door open. “It is an old wizard dwelling in London, the childhood home of Bellatrix. Perhaps there is something still there.”

“What about me!” Harry called after the potions master. “I can't leave your office looking like this!” But Snape was already gone. “Wonderful.” Harry pushed the door shut and collapsed on a chair. “Wonderful...”

Harry spent a fruitless hour trying to work transfiguration on himself, only succeeding in giving himself acne, when he noticed someone coming up the corridor outside. He froze momentarily before he saw who it was and relaxed.

“Hello Harry.” Pythea said without pause as she pushed the door open and turned to him.

“You could at least pretend to be a little surprised.” Harry pointed at his face.

“You look the same to me.” Pythea closed the door.

“Well at least we match now.” Harry smiled out of one brown eye and one green and into one green and one purple. “How did you know I was down here anyway?”

“Snape sent me. He told me to give you back your old face.” Pythea cocked her head. “But I will only do it if you want me to.”

“It's ok.” Harry sighed. “I know I need to look like Harry again.”

“You shouldn't feel forced, this is your choice.”

“Would be kind of hard to explain.”

“Not with the truth.”

“Which I already decided I can't tell the world.” Harry hung his head. “Maybe when all this is over. But for now the world still needs their hero. I need my secret identity back.”

“You're sure?”

“Yes.”

Pythea moved closer and sat on the arm of his chair. She raised her hand and lightly touched his cheek. Harry shivered. Because of the magic. Just because of the magic. Thea leant in closer as her fingers played over his skin. Harry could feel her breath on his neck.

“So... how um... How long will this take?” Harry said breathlessly (the magic must have been interfering with his lungs).

“Quite a while. Longer if you keep talking.” Pythea placed her hand flat over Harry's eyes and he felt a faint shifting around his lids. He could smell the little seers skin. Ink. She had been writing, probably scrying over more maps for the order. The hand was lifted away and Harry's face felt oddly warm.

“This really will take a while.” Pythea said suddenly, jarring Harry back to reality. “You could try to get some sleep.”

“I have a better idea.” Harry opened his eyes and fixed them on Thea's. “Gaius emineo” The world swirled around them. “There, ” Harry leant back against a tree. “That's better.”

“How did you learn to do this?” Pythea asked curiously as she looked around at the illusionary orchard.

“I looked it up after you did it to me last year.” Harry shrugged. “It's not that hard if you have the place you want held in your mind. And this place is engraved on every cell of my brain.” Harry crossed his legs on the grass. He knew it was just the leather of the chair. But it felt like grass. Harry sighed contentedly as Pythea went back to work on his features. The wind ruffled his hair as it slowly darkened again.

Can I ask you about something? Harry asked wordlessly, not moving his lips. Do you know anything about phoenixes?

A little. Why?

I don't know,but they seem to have some weird interest in me. One of them came when I called earlier. And before that one saved us in gringots.

A phoenix chose you as it's partner? Pythea sounded impressed. That's a great honour Harry.

That's not what it is. Harry was about to shake his head, then stopped. They were different phoenixs, I could tell. And before, when you were sick, the whole phoenix colony was acting weird towards me. Have you heard of anything like that before?

That is... very strange.

Thea we're talking mentally. Harry chided. You can't hide things as easily. You're really shocked by this.

I... I don't know Harry. I'm not used to not knowing. It makes me nervous, especially where you are concerned.

I don't think it's a danger. They saved my life remember.

I know. Thea shifted her fingers down to Harry's hands. He could feel his bones reshaping. But it still makes me nervous.

The centaurs want me dead, the phoenixes want me alive. Harry rolled his eyes. And that's not even getting started on the humans who want a piece of me. See anything useful in seer-o-vision?

No Harry. Thea smiled softly.

Harry sighed and closed his eyes again. He had imagined the orchard in spring and there were apple blossoms floating on the air. Pythea lowered her hands, the transformation was over. Harry didn't open his eyes, better to keep the moment or a little longer. Beside him the seer leant on his shoulder and closed her own eyes.

Harry didn't know how long they were sat there but eventually the illusion was shattered by the door slamming open.

“Harry.” Snape snapped as soon as he was through the door, holding it open just long enough for Natalie Zhao to step through before slamming it shut. “Harry stand up.”

“Stand…right.” Harry shifted uncomfortably. He was acutely aware of Thea pressing against his side. “Um… Must I? It’s just that I’m… tired. Yes, tired. Legs… tired. And arms… general musculature…”

“Shut up.” Snape knelt down and looked into Harry’s eyes. This time he didn’t have to say it, Harry obediently lowered his defences and felt the familiar pushing of Snape’s mind. After a few moments Snape leant back.

“That is what I thought I saw. But I had to be sure.”

“What did you see.”

“The dark lord stepping through the veil.” Snape stood back up and stepped over to his desk. He poured a small glass of golden liquid and drank it in one gulp.

“So?” Harry asked. “So what does that mean?”

Snape said nothing, just rubbed his forehead.

“We examined the veil we found at Grimauld Place. The house you were held in.” Natalie answered. “It is functionally identical to the veil in the department of mysteries.”

Pythea stiffened and Harry heard a sharp intake of breath.

“What does the veil do?” Harry asked.

“It is a one way portal to death.” Zhao answered simply. “The department of mysteries was initially created to investigate the ‘three great mysteries’.”

“Time, destiny and death.” Pythea said softly, imbuing the words ominous strength.

“Yes that is right.” Natalie nodded. “Although some people think they are essentially the same thing.”

“They are wrong.” Thea said leadenly.

“Get on with the explanation.” Snape growled from his desk.

“The veil can be used to take a person bodily into the next world.” Natalie snapped irritably.

“So it was used to kill people?” Harry raised an eyebrow.

“Actually it was originally an honour to go through. Ancient wizards would go through late in their lives with boxes and carts full of their riches. Like an pyramid, except they were still alive. It hasn't been done for centuries though. And you're right, in medieval times it was used to execute prisoners. It's possible, with special equipment, to see through the veil.” Natalie shuddered. “I've seen recordings. The prisoners tried to get back, they tries everything, but in the end they all walked away. Across the desert.”

The room went silent. Harry thought back to the painting that had been hanging in Voldemort's laboratory. Hundreds of footprints leading away. None leading back.

“He knows how to see through.” Harry thought back. “He's been investigating it. And he grabbed something before he stepped through, a gold amulet... he must have worked out a way to pass through it safely and get back.”

“That is impossible.” Natalie stated flatly. “The department has been investigating it for centuries. Maybe he thought he had a way-”

“The dark lord is still alive.” Snape slammed his glass down on the desk.

“How do you know that?” Natalie asked pointedly.

“Because I know him.”

“He's right.” Harry shook his head. “Old snake face knows more about avoiding death than anyone else. Hey! You should put-”

“Place guards on the veil in the department of mysteries?” Snape interrupted him. “They are there as we speak. And others watch the veil at Grimauld place. But I doubt he will go to either of those places.”

“There are other veils?”

“Probably, no one knows.” Natalie answered. “Relics of ancient civilizations. He might come out of one of them. If he comes out at all.”

Harry could see Snape opening his mouth to growl a retort so he quickly said,

“Speaking of avoiding death, did you see in my head-”

“The hocruxes.” Snape interrupted him. “Yes. In retrospect it was so obvious...”

“In retrospect it always is.” Harry said. “At least now we know. Do you think there are others.”

“There are two others.” Snape said simply. When Harry's jaw dropped open Snape simply said. “Mr Slughorn was very talkative with a some persuasion. He is not, in the end, an evil man. Or even a foolish one. He is simply wedded to him comforts. In any case he was a teacher here at Hogwarts years ago when a boy called Tom Riddle was a student here. He once spoke to the young dark lord about the possibility of a seven part soul. Counting the portion that remains in the dark lords body, the diary, the serpent, the ring and the cup.”

“Two left...” Harry felt dread rising in his heart. “And Voldemort knows where they are. And we don't.” Harry bowed his head, another problem. He was sick of this... he was tired.

“Voldemort may be injured from his passage through the veil. Injured or otherwise delayed.” Snape said thoughtfully. “Given what I know of the dark lord perhaps I can find them before he recovers.”

“You said 'I' not 'We'.” Harry raised an eyebrow. A few months ago he would have been angered by the lack of inclusion. Now he was verging on grateful.

“No.” Snape raised a hand to silence complaints that would not come. “I am not sidelineing you Harry. I am better suited to this task. As you are better suited to deal with our other problem.”

“Other pro... Sasori.” Harry rubbed his forehead. Little stabs of pain were feathering his temples. He wanted desperately to sleep. “I'd forgotten about him.”

“It is worse than you think. He has the philosopher's stone.”

“Voldemort didn't have in on him when he went through?”

“No. We found the sealed safe the dark lord was keeping the stone in. It had been broken open.” Snape shook his head. “We have one dark lord to deal with. I would rather prevent the rise of another.”

“Sasori's ambitious.” Harry nodded. “We've got to take him down before he learns to use the stone.”

“My thoughts exactly. But he will be well defended, and I cannot use any order members, all of them are needed in the search for the dark lord.”

“So that leaves me.” Harry bit his lip to stop a dark sigh. Snape needed him. The world needed their freakin hero... “I'll get the stone back.”

“Remember what we learnt at their temple.” Snape held up a cautionary finger.

“There could be hundreds of them in there.” Harry nodded. “I'll come up with something though... you just worry about Voldemort. I'll deal with the Lie Gou.”

“Very well.” Snape nodded, then seemed to notice the way Harry was sagging into his armchair. “I am sure you need to rest. I know that I do.”

“Goodnight professor.” Harry nodded as he and Pythea left the dark office. After a few meters of silent corridor Pythea asked quietly,

“Do you have a plan?”

“Not yet. But I'll think of a plan.” Harry bit his lip. He had to invade a fortified building full of magical ninjas in a bubble universe and find a tiny stone. Like looking for a needle in a haystack while evading a rabid wolverine. “And it had better be a good one...”
________________________________________


Hi all. I've actually finished the writing on book 6, started on book 7. As things stand it looks like book 7's going to be shorter than 5 or 6 and I was thinking of posting it as just a few large chapters rather than lots of little ones. It gets tiring trying to find a natural point to end a chapter every five-thousand words or so as I have been doing. Massive chapters would let it flow a little better.

Three fifteen-hundred word chapters would probably do it. Thoughts?

Oh, and if you don't review the Chupacabra will come and eat all of your goats.

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I don't own Frodo Baggins. Not that he's in this story, just thought it was worth mentioning.
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Harry stepped out of the flue and turned up his collar against the rain. He was headed for the Tarot, for his second visit in as many days. He had the beginnings of a plan to attack Sasori, he just didn't know if it was too insane. His plan could get them into the place, it wouldn't help them find the stone though... The rain was driving vertically into Harry as he trudged down the grey street.

Was someone following him?

Harry's eye rolled back in it's socket. There was someone on the street behind him, could be a muggle, Harry couldn't see well enough with all the distortion the rain brought. He changed direction and stepped onto a busy muggle street, taking him away from the Tarot. The man followed him. Proved nothing. Harry was very careful not to speed up or slow down. He had a meeting scheduled in the Tarot but he had left himself plenty of time. And the patrons would not thank him for leading someone to their drinking hole. Tarot pubs had been found before by the aurors of course and subsequently abandoned. The idea continued. Still, they would be... displeased.

Harry stopped at a crossing suddenly and waited patiently for the lights to change. The man following him slowed to a crawl and stopped at a shop front, pretending the shelter under the awning. The lights changed. Harry stepped forwards and the man set off in pursuit.

Bugger.

Now that he was closer Harry could zoom in on the man's face. An older man, maybe forty. Black hair with a little grey. Moustache, clean shaven otherwise. Wearing grey trench coat. Under that wearing unremarkable cords and shirt. So far so muggle. Under that the man had muscle. Unusual amounts for a man his age. Harry slowed down a tick more to get a better view. Wand. In his pocket with his finger s wrapped around it.

Damn it. So much for being muggle. Harry could see the man's heartbeat, a perfectly calm and measured tempo. He wasn't stressed whoever he was. From his face he wasn't one of the Lie Gou either. Although it could be a disguise. Or it could be the other people who wanted him dead.

Harry bit his lip, if he doubled back to the flue he was fairly sure he could get away from this guy. But then he wouldn't make his rendezvous. He could call backup, the marauders, but they could take ages. He could try to lose this guy... that was the smart thing to do. But then he wouldn't get any clue why these wierdos were after him. So he could fight... but not here. A car shot past Harry, throwing up water out of a puddle. Definitely not here, too many muggles.

Harry turned down an side street between tall apartment buildings. His tail was catching up. He must have realized he had been made. Harry ducked into an alleyway and ran to the end before sliding into hiding at the edge of a wall and drawing his wand.

The man stepped into the alleyway. Harry waited as his tracker strode along the dank gutter between the walls. The old man stopped suddenly and drew his wand. What was he doing?... The man aimed.

Damnit!

Harry leapt out of the way as the man sent a red bolt straight through the brick where Harry had been. Harry came up with his wand out and fired a stunner. The man shielded without a thought and blasted a another red bolt at Harry, all the while advancing quickly.

Harry flicked his wand, dragging a dumpster into the man's path and banishing it towards him. It was quickly transfigured into feathers but Harry reversed the spell and the man was broadsided, driving him back. Harry banished again, driving his battering ram of metal and trash into the man again. Suddenly a cutting white flash filled the air and the dumpster was cut in half by a glowing blade.

Harry cursed, to much to hope other people wouldn't know his tricks.

The man dashed forward, the blade still sparkling in his hand. Harry sent a simple stunner that forced the man to drop the sword to shield and followed it up...

“Atrax!” The trash in the alley grew spider legs and threw itself at the old man who raised his hands and called up a shockwave that blew the spiders to pieces and made the buildings shake. “Tempesto” Harry called wind to blow the glass and debris back at his attacker but the man ducked to the wall and jabbed his want to the sky.

Harry dodged in time but was still blown to the floor as a lightning bolt shot down from the already bulging sky and blew apart the flagstones under his feet. Harry rolled to his feet as another stabbed down where he had been lying.

Harry dashed towards the man and fired a fireball at his face, following it up with a blistering barrage of hexs and charms. The man had to stop his attack to shield but flicked his other hand into his pocket to draw out small capsule.

What the hell?

With a flick of his wrist the man threw the thing at Harry.

“Depulso!” Harry yelled on reflex but it did nothing to stop the thing. “Geyser” Harry flicked his wand down and a fountain of water erupted from the ground sending the little thing tumbling into the air.

The man dropped to the floor with his hands over his ears. Harry was about to fire a spell at him when the little capsule exploded with a thunder-clap and a blinding flash of light. Brick ships fountained down on Harry as he was thrown backwards. He looked up in horror as the whole side of the building crumbled, bricks rending in huge cracks and sheeting falling away.

Child!

Harry's eye flickered to the biggest gap just in time to see a bed fall through the crack and get stuck, dropping it's screaming inhabitant from the fifth floor. Harry's had scrabbled for his wand but he was too dazed, too slow. Someone else was faster. The old man darted beneath the falling child and caught him in both arms just as Harry's fingers closed around his wand and swung around...

Wand pointing... Man defenceless... Child screaming in his arms...

They stayed stuck in that tableau for a long heartbeat. Harry could feel his own breathing. The other man couldn't defend himself with his hands full... but on the other hand he had a human shield. Harry could hear panicked cries from above. The muggles would be here soon. The other man just stood motionless. And then, to Harry's amazement, the other man knelt down and laid the child on the concrete before slowly raising to his feet with his hands held out to either side of him.

He had given up his human shield.

“Who the hell are you?” Harry yelled through the rain, keeping his wand trained on the man's chest. “You want to kill me but you do a fireman save on someone else? Why the hell just me?”

The man was silent.

“You'll save everyone but me is that it?”

“I am saving everyone else.” The man spoke for the first time, his voice low and oddly accented.

“What?”

“I am saving everyone else.” The man repeated. “By killing you.”

“What?”

“You must die.” The man said flatly. “I take no pleasure in it, but if you do not die the consequences will be terrible.”

“How the hell does that work?” Harry yelled angrily. “I'm the bloody chosen one here!”

“No. You are not. You are not the chosen one. This we know. But that is not the point.” The man's voice was hasty. They could both hear running feet approaching. Harry gritted his teeth. He wanted to stun this guy and take him in... on the other hand, he had saved a kid. On the other hand...

The man's arms came down and the crack of dissapparation filled the alleyway. Harry recovered from his angered shock just long enough to disillusion himself just before the muggles stampeded into the alley. He hid at the side and squeezed out before dashing away along the street. In the rain someone would notice him if he stayed in one place too long. Harry ducked into a doorway and cancelled the spell before sinking to his knees and pushing his head back against the wall, heedless of the rain running down his face.

I have to die?

Harry knocked his head against the stone.

I have to die? Because I'm an abomination.

That was the reason these wierdo's had been after him? They hadn't told him any more than the centaurs and yet... they knew who he really was. They weren't killing him for being Harry Potter. They were trying to kill Jack Malyn.

Why would anyone want to kill an orphan with no memory?

Harry smacked his head against the stone again. He had given five bloody and painful years to protecting people and fighting darkness, years he didn't have to give. A fight he hadn't had to be a part of. And for what? For people who save children from certain death to try to kill him.

Tears might have been flowing from his eyes, he couldn't tell in the rain.

Harry pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. He had sat like this back before Hogwarts he could remember... of course most of the time he had been smart enough to find somewhere out of the rain. He could remember that time... what kind of life did he lead now that he looked back fondly on being a street urchin? That thought was too bitter to even make him laugh.

Harry rolled his eye to look at the watch in his pocket. He still had ten minutes till his scheduled meeting and he was going to spend at least five of them here in the rain, in the gutter, in a doorway with faded band posters nailed to the chipboard. He didn't care if it made him late, if this doorway was all the world was giving him then he would take it. He had to have something.

Harry curled up and knocked his had back into the corner where the rain was a little less. He closed his eyes and felt the droplets slapping against his coat. He didn't care.
*


Harry pushed open the door of the Tarot, this time situating itself in a brightly decorated wine bar. He took a calming breath.

“Wet out there.” Harry threw a drying charm over his clothes and hair and stepped over to the man he had come to meet. Harry bowed respectfully and forced a fake smile onto his face. “Good evening. Thank you for hearing what I have to say.”

The man on the other side of the table nodded faintly to the chair opposite him. Harry sat.

“So...” Harry took a shallow breath. “Shall I tell you about Sasori?”
*


Hours later Harry sat alone in a side booth of the Tarot. The man he had come to meet was long gone. The meeting had gone well, Harry had said what he needed to say and the man had believed it. He had also given Harry a large bag of gold, but that wasn't important. It had only been important that the man thought Harry wanted money for the information, to conceal the real reason and...

Oh what was the point?

Harry took a deep drapht of the drink in front of him. It was on a coaster, as were the two empty glasses in front of him. If he went back to Hogwarts he would have to start being himself again, having people demand things of him, and he wasn't sure he could take that right now.

Just need to take down Sasori... get back the stone...

Except after that Voldemort is still out there.

Snape's dealing with it.

Snape is getting the Hocruxs. Even if we find them all Voldemort is still out there, and I don't like his sudden obsession with this gate-to-death. Let's face it, we're not even close to the end.

Harry finished the rest of his drink and dropped the empty. He shouldn't have another. He was going to have another. He just wanted to spend some time where there was no one demanding anything of him, was that too much to ask? Harry dropped his head to his hands. The only place he could be calm was in a den of iniquity, the hideout of criminals. What did that say?

Harry breathed deeply and drew his orchard projection around him, but it wavered and parts of the Tarot showed through the edges. Harry realized he wouldn't be able to hold it and allowed it to fade. It wasn't real anyway.

Maybe when this is over I can go back there. The thought surfaced in Harry's mind. Going back to the orphanage, living like a muggle. He had no skills or anything but surely they needed janitors... or entertainers. Harry sighed or maybe he would just leave the country. He'd miss his friends, the marauders, Thea.... but they'd understand. Take another name... or go back to Jack and just... wander...

Harry dropped his head to the table. Foolish thoughts, there was still book seven before he could think of things like that.

The thing is... I don't know if I can last that long.

Harry closed his eyes and laid back in his booth. He'd have to last that long wouldn't he? Because that was what he needed to do, what the world asked of him. And he always did what was asked of him. Every bloody time, no matter what. Every bloody time.

“Mr Potter! I didn't expect to see you here.”

Harry's eye's shot open in an instance. He hadn't been paying attention. His magic eye had just been rolling in it's socket but now it snapped to attention. His hand jerked to his wand, but as he saw who was approaching him he relaxed. A little.

“Mr James.” Harry looked up at the mysterious older man. “Another warning message for me? What's happened now? Sky falling? Hitler back from the dead? New Dido single?”

“Did I not just say I was surprised to see you here?” James slid into the booth opposite Harry. He took a soft sip of his gin and tonic then placed it on the table.

No coaster. Harry tried to remember what gin and tonic meant in the Tarot code.

“Oh, my mistake.” James slid a coaster under his drink.

Had that really been a mistake? Was James just having a drink or was he sending a signal? Or did he want Harry to think he was... Oh who cares.

“Come here often?” Harry asked the man opposite him.

“Occasionally, I mean you have to. To do business.” James glanced around. “I was not expecting to see you here though, being one of the virtuous ones.”

“Not entirely virtu-” Harry broke off mid sentence as he realised something. He could see James. With both eyes. The old man was actually there, not a projection like before. Harry was shocked for a moment. He was even more shocked that he hadn't noticed. The firelight glinted off the glasses in front of him. Harry closed his eyes and surrounded himself with his orchard, just for a fraction of a second. He tried to pull his mind together before he opened his eyes. “Not entirely virtuous. Just more virtuous than my enemies.”

“I've heard you have more than one enemy these days.” James said casually. “Dear old Tom Riddle and now you have gone further afield for foes. I knew the dark lord was foolish for putting his trust in mercenaries.”

Harry's eye flickered down James' body, looking for anything resembling a clue to his identity. The results were disturbing, almost every bone in the old man's body had been broken years ago, probably at the same time. Even the bones in his skull under his bald head showed signs of healed fractures. It was long ago, they had healed naturally first, then magically later... weird. The guy was stocked to the gills with magical artefacts and amulets too, but that was understandable here. No wand however... that was also odd.

“I don't think he puts trust in anyone.” Harry shrugged. “How did you find out they left him anyway?”

“It's more or less common knowledge in my circles.” James waved to the bar. “Can I get you another drink.”

No. “I'll have what you're having.” Why did I say that?

James motioned to the barman and a moment later Harry was holding a gin and tonic.

“You can relax Mr Potter.” James took another sip from his glass. “This is the Tarot remember? No one can touch you here. Not even me.”

“Screw it.” Harry took a deep swallow of his drink. He paused. “This tastes terrible.”

“My apologies. Shall I order you something el-”

“Yes.” Harry drained the rest of the glass. “Please.”

A glass of white wine appeared in Harry's hand. He sipped it this time.

“Penny for your thoughts Mr Potter?” James asked.

“Why did you come here tonight if you didn't know I was here?”

“You are not the centre of the universe Mr Potter. Despite what many think.” James smiled. “I have many other things to manage other than yourself. As to what business I had here? That is none of yours.”

“Fair enough.” Harry shrugged. James didn't have a wallet in his pocket, not any money either. He hadn't paid the barkeeper for any of his drinks, he must have a tab. No one had a tab at the Tarot. Not unless to not give them a tab would have been dangerous to the proprietors. Who the hell was James? Harry considered for a moment, then abandoned the train of thought. Tonight he wasn't going to try to solve any mysteries, he was just going to relax, drink, and talk to a mysterious stranger who was probably the head of some sort of clandestine crime syndicate. Wait... “So it wouldn't have anything to do with the man who tried to attack me on the way here?”

“Attack you?” James looked aghast. “On the way to the Tarot? That would be terribly bad etiquette. I can't imagine that even the Lie Gou would do that, they would be barred from the establishment, they would loose business.”

Harry said nothing. If Sasori had already worked out how to use the stone to turn lead into gold that might not matter.

“Did it look like one of the Lie Gou?”

“No, but they could easily disguise themselves.” Harry took a sip of wine. “Didn't fight like one of the Lie Gou.”

“Perhaps I can help? What did he look like?” James actually seemed interested.

“Perhaps,” Harry hesitated, should he tell James anything else? His fractured brain threw up a red flag, but on the other hand he currently knew sod all about the people trying to kill him. Anything he found out would be helpful. “Oldish, moustache, sounded foreign. Italian maybe...”

“The same person who attacked you with a crossbow earlier this year?”

“No.” Harry didn't ask how James knew. “Not the same person, but probably from the same source. The crossbow guy was friends with the centaurs.”

“The centaurs would never hire assassins.” James waved the comment away. “Not only is it against their laws, they also have too little money. You can't hire killers with acorns and mysticism.”

“They weren't assassins, at least not paid ones.” Harry thought back to the cryptic comments his attacker had made. “They didn't seem like assassins...”

“Well I can't think who they would be.” James shrugged apologetically, but not unhappily. “It would seem you have stumped me. I mean of course there are Italian crime organizations but none of them have any interest in you.”

“You know that for certain?”

“Of course.” James actually seemed to be relaxing, his elderly frame leant against the table. “Most criminals are looking forward to the removal of Voldemorrt, he is an irritation to so many things.”

“Like living.”

“Quite.”

“There was one other thing...” Harry bit his lip. “In the fight the man went out of his way to save a muggle who got caught in the crossfire. Almost lost the fight because of-”

“No...” James' eyes went wide. “Are you certain?”

“Positive.”

“But they... why would they have any reason to attack you?”

“You know who they are?” Harry perked up and tried to sit up straight. His elbow slipped off the table but be righted himself and asked again. “You know who they are?”

“I believe I do...” James regarded Harry quizzically over his glass. “Why would they... but it can't be them. I would almost expect them to be on your side.”

Harry said nothing. The men probably would be on the side of Harry Potter. At least James didn't know who he really was. Probably.

“Just tell me who they are.” Harry said irritably.

“Oh some fools who think they can save the world.” James chuckled under his breath. “Even more deluded than Dumbledore was in many ways. Couching their idiocy in some ridiculous notions of order and chaos and god and... they are ridiculous. Think no more of them. I seriously doubt that they could succeed where Voldemort failed.”

“That's comforting. You know what would be more comforting? If you would give me a freekin name.”

“But the real question is why you?” James tapped his glass thoughtfully. “Yes... yes that is very interesting.”

“You can't not tell me.” Harry's elbow slipped again, this time knocking over one of his old glasses. “You have to tell me who they are.”

“Actually I don't think I will Mr Potter.” James chuckled under his breath. “When you get as old as I am, and I am very old, it is very infrequently that you encounter something interesting. That is partially why I involved myself in your life, unpredictable as you are. This question however is even more of a conundrum. No, I believe I will not tell you. Not until I have considered more this intriguing problem. Good evening Mr Potter, it was a pleasure to meet you again.” James stood and turned away.

“Hey!” Harry tried to stand but his arm got caught on the table and he fell back into his seat. He tried to ride again and stepped quickly towards the door.

“You're not thinking of following him are you?” A deep growl came from the barman. Following someone leaving the Tarot was as bad as attacking them at it.

“No, just leaving myself.” Harry shook his head. He turned back to the table and, a thought springing to mind, leant over and sniffed at James' glass. Still half full. Smelled of tonic. No gin, just tonic.

Damnit

Harry turned to leave. At least he was protected by Tarot rules as well. No one would attack him on his way back. The rules stopped him from getting killed, didn't stop him from being played for a fool. Harry stepped out into the rain, letting it run down his face soothingly. He had screwed up badly tonight. He had made mistakes... no. No he hadn't made mistakes. A mistake was when you didn't know that what you were doing was stupid. He had known, and he had done it anyway.

Why

Because the world owes me some freakin screw ups. Harry pulled his coat around him and stalked off into the rain. The rules were supposed to protect him, but that didn't mean he didn't watch the shadows all the way home.
*


“Why do you think Harry brought us all here?” Hermione asked quietly as the rest of the marauders waited in the marauder's attic.

“I don't know. No one knows obviously.” Ron said from beside her. “He wasn't in his bed last night, I know that.”

“It must be something important to gather us all here like this.” Hermione bit one of her fingernails. “Maybe he's found where Voldemort is? Or something about the Lie Gou? I wish he'd tell us what was going on.”

“I guess it's harder now.” Ron shrugged. “Half the school's marauder. He can't keep us all in the loop. Remember when it was just the six of us? Right in the beginning?”

“Seems like a lifetime ago.”

“Kind of does I-” Ron broke off. “Hey, look there...” He pointed.

“Is it Harry? Oh,” Hermione shook her head as Draco stepped into the room. He looked as tired as he always did, but it was still a week to full moon. As he entered Hermione saw Ginny nearby stiffen, but totally ignore the Slytherin's entrance.

“Why doesn't she just give up on him?” Ron said angrily. “It's stupid that she's so torn up about it.”

Hermione didn't say what she wanted to.

“Anyway Draco's a prat for doing this.”

Again, Hermione kept silent. Given that Harry had been gone a lot lately and Ginny hadn't been speaking much Hermione had been spending quite a lot of time with Draco. She had a suspicion that he had his reasons for rejecting Ginny. Or, well the fact that he was a werewolf and...

“HEY MORONS!” The marauders fell silent, turning to see that Harry had materialized. “Sorry, I meant to say 'Can I have your attention?' but somehow it just... well you know how it is. In any case, grab your gear. We're leaving in five to save the world.”
*


“Harry where are we going?” Ginny demanded as the marauders slung their invisibility cloaks on.

“Well first we're going to Wales, to the lake that forms the entrance to the Lie Gou factor house.” Harry was strapping a spear-like thing to his hip. “Where we float far above the water like pretty butterflies. Then, at the opportune moment, we fly down through the portal, fly up to the house, go in, find the stone, get the stone. Simple.”

“That's your plan?”

“Well they will be a little distracted by that point...”
*


Harry zoomed his eye down through the darkness. A skirmish of figures were approaching the water, flitting from cover to cover like shadows. They were grouping near the lake, slipping in one by one. Harry's hand tightened on his wand,so it had worked, he hadn't been sure it would.

Usually at this point he would be feeling the rush of adrenalin before a big fight, this time he just felt scared. There were a lot of people behind him who would become very dead if this went wrong. He didn't feel energized, he felt... deadened...

The last of the shadows slunk into the lake. Harry took a deep breath. He flicked his watch out. About two minutes would probably do it.

Harry closed his eyes. The orchard was still there, but the leaves were gone, turned into drifts and mulch on the ground. Harry couldn't tell if the wind blowing through his hair was in the illusion or in reality. It didn't matter. Two minutes were up.

“Down.” Harry aimed his broom down and carefully guided it down, with one hand the staff in front of him to aim. The rest of the marauders followed him.

"Agoredig Ffordd." Harry whispered to the water's surface. He took a deep breath... “NOW!”

Harry dove his broom forward through the water and straight out the other side. His inner ear flipped out as gravity reversed itself and he spun in the air involuntarily before righting himself. Other marauders shot past him, taking the lead, just like they planned. After all, he wasn't the one you wanted leading an aerial attack.

Harry followed the others, shooting across the still air. Up ahead he could see the temple, it's windows glowing in the night air. Spells and gouts of fire shot into the air all around them. They weren't aimed at them though, they were aimed at the other figures on the ground.

“Works like a charm.” Harry muttered through gritted teeth as they shot over the warzone.
*


“So you started a war between ninjas and more ninjas!”

“Look,” Harry look a calming breath. “ I met the leader of the Lie Gou at the Tarot.” Harry flicked two guns into his inside pockets.

“I thought that was who we were going to attack?”

“Sasori's just their European factor.” Two vials of potion and a grenade went into another pocket. “And a very naughty boy for working the Voldemort/philosophers stone angle without cutting his bosses in for a share. They're not happy. They'll be moving tonight to explain their displeasure to him at length.”

“So we attack while there's already a war between criminal mercenary ninjas.”

“Course.” Harry tried to sound more sure of himself than he felt. “So long as there aren't any complications it should go fine.”
*


“Yes!.” Her hand curled around the discarded wand. “Allohamora.” The cell door sprang open, pushing the corpse away. Bellatrix stepped out of her cell and kicked the body before spitting on it as a final insult and moving off, crouched against the wall. These godless mercenaries had kept her imprisoned for days, but it was nothing, she was used to worse prisons. And now they fought among themselves. Useless fools. And now that she was free there would be hell to pay.
*


Harry crashed through the window and rolled to his feet, wand out. The others had already secured the room but he wanted to be sure.

“Ok, you know your teams.” Ginny barked. “Team four, Hold here! Everyone else, GO!” She didn't even wait before dashing off.

“Wait you suicidal-” Harry darted after her, cursing. To be fair this had been the plan, in a general sense. Secure a few rooms from the madness and burn a path to Sasori, where they hoped to find the stone, leaving teams along the way to secure a way out. The plan had not been for Ginny to go all death-seeker. “Ginny duck!” Harry reached the girl just in time to tackle her to the floor. A bolt of lightning smashed through the wall, above them. Harry fired back through the hole with one hand, dragging Ginny to her feet with the other.

“What-?”

“I go first!” Harry barked into her face. “I'm the one with the eye! Remember?”

“I-” For a moment it seemed like Ginny was going to fight him. “Fine. Get moving then.” The last sentence was said through gritted teeth.

Harry pushed away and surged forward. Draco stepped up next to him and for a moment caught his eye.

Harry send her back. She shouldn't be here. She's not thinking straight.

She wouldn't listen. Harry sent back quickly. At least here we can keep an eye- “SHIELDS!” Harry himself jumped close to Draco, trusting the werewolf's shield far more than his own.

An ark of knives tore through the wall like machine gun fire and a moment later the wall crashed in, filling the corridor with fighting black figures.

“Harry which ones are on our side!” Neville yelled.

“None of them!” Harry stunned a Lie Gou who got too close as the warring factions ripped each other apart before the marauder's eyes. “Just stay back and hit any that notice you or survive!”

And maybe don't talk?

Harry was thrown backwards as one of the fighters fired a spell at the sound of his voice. Harry hit the wall and felt his wand jarred out of his fingers. His other hand gripped the spear in his sleeve and had torn it out before he hit the floor. He sent lighting from the tip at his attacker before sweeping it over the other combatants. They fell to the floor like ragdolls and the marauders sent stunning spells to truly send them to la-la-land.

“Team three hold this spot!” Ginny yelled. She darted forward but stopped short at a dead glare from Harry.

Harry turned and grabbed his wand before continuing on, threading his way through bodies. He felt jealous of the others, they could only hear the battles going on all around them, just rooms away. He could see it.

Oh god so much blood...

He had done this. Harry gritted his teeth as he silently led the marauders through passageways away from the main battles. He had done this. He had caused this massacre.

“Two in the next room.” Harry didn't even hesitate as he threw the door open and stabbed the lighting spear at one. Draco dropped the other one and Harry just kept walking. There were tables in this room, the remains of a meal. They had just been eating. There were already three bodies in the next room. Well, two and a half.

I caused this.

“Harry focus!” Draco's voice shocked Harry out of his fugue.

“It's ok. I'm ok.” Harry gritted his teeth. Draco narrowed his bloodshot eyes.

Don't tell me you're going mad too-

I'm fine. Harry continued quietly. “It looks like Sasori's office and stuff is through here. Its at the top of... of like an indoor tower thingy in the middle of a garden. There's a stair around the outside of it. And lots of guards, twenty on the ground, fifteen on the stairway. That I can see anyway. No other way through though.”

“Is Sasori there?” Ginny said flatly.

“Can't tell. There's a ward around the top of the tower.” Harry looked back over his troops. There weren't many left. They had left a breadcrumb trail of safe zones across the temple, it left them stretched but it was the only way.

“Alright.” Ginny said definitely. “Hermione, you keep the rest of them with you and take out everyone on the floor, hold the area. Harry, Draco and me... we go up the tower.”

“Ginny-”

“You know that's the best way.” Ginny growled. “You have a better plan?”

“That's it.” Harry narrowed his eyes. “You're going back. Help hold the last room.”

“To hell with you!” Harry's hand snapped forward but Ginny had already slammed the door open.

“Damnit!” Harry's hand flicked into his pocket as thirty-five wands spun towards him. Harry's hand flicked out of his pocket. “Disperseas!” Ten grenades fanned out across the room like a spray of death. “Shield!”

Draco's shield flashed around him as Harry's thoughts were filled with hatred of everything red-headed and female. The flames consumed the garden but the spells were already hammering down. Harry's eye caught something that made him scream like a banshee.

“NO!” Ginny was shooting into the air, zooming towards the top of the tower! “Who knew she still had her broom!”

“She had it in her bag!” Draco yelled through gritted teeth. “Shield down in three... two... one...”

“Stupefy!” Harry had his wand in one hand and the spear in the other. Two shapes rose from the smoke. Two shapes were thrown back in. Harry dashed to the stairs and cursed as he aimed a stunner at a shape leaping out of the darkness. The staircase didn't even have a banister, no protection from the firing below.

“We should take out the ones down here first!” Draco slammed into the wall next to Harry.

“Can't! Stupid Bloody evil your freekin wannabe GIRLFREIND stupid KILL HER!” A figure dropped down in front of Harry and he took the opportunity to take out his rage. The figure fell back bloody. “We need to get up there in case she does some -DIE STUPID EVIL- she's screwed everything up! Here you shield I'll kill. I feel like killing.”

Harry edged forward as fast as he was able, cowering under Draco's shield as they advanced up the tower.
*


Ginny dropped off her broom at the top of the tower and ducked behind a side wall.

She could do this. She could do this alone. She didn't need... Ginny took a deep breath, her heart was racing. Suddenly she was thrown to the floor as the wall exploded outwards above her. Ginny rolled and aimed her wand at the opening, but a moment later another hole appeared right on the other side of the tower. Flashing lights broke from inside the tower and Ginny gingerly snuck up the the hole in the wall. Down below Ginny could hear explosions, the others were fighting. But she didn't need them...

Ginny raised her head a little over the wall and looked over. Inside there was a wide office, desk shattered against the shelves, shelves thrown across the floor, floor on fire. In the middle of the room, circling one another like dogs, a man and a woman, wands poised to fire.

Bellatrix. Bellatrix and Sasori.

“Give me the stone!” The scarred death eater looked rabid, foaming at the mouth and twitching. “Give me the stone or I'll tear you limb from limb!”

Sasori said nothing, but sent a spell bouncing off the wall to catch Bella in the side, throwing up a gout of blood. She was covered in blood but didn't seem to realize it. Sasori was clean and almost smiling. He was winning and he knew it.

Ginny shifted around the outside of the tower. She could finish off Bellatrix (of course she could...) but the Lie Gou... If she could take him out first, from hiding, she could take Bella. Then she'd have the stone. She could get it herself.

Ginny tried to work out where the fighters were from the screeches and explosions from inside the office. Why hadn't she got herself an eye like Harry's? She's considered it, why hadn't she done it? Ginny found another break in the wall and raised herself up.
*


“Stupid bloody-!” Harry barged into the Lie Gou in front of him and chucked him off the side of the tower. By now it was a long way down. Harry tried to aim through a haze of pain and forced his feet to climb higher up the tower. “Draco move!” Harry yelled back at the man behind him.

“You go ahead, I'll hold them!” Draco was raining down fire on the fighters below. “You help her!”

“You sure? I'm planning on killing her afterwards.”

“Just GO!”
*


“Stubefy!” Ginny felt a cry of victory as the spell smashed into the Lie Gou's back, sending him careening to the floor. “Avada Kedavra!” Ginny aimed the curse at the shocked death eater at the other side of the room. Bellatrix threw herself to the side, giving Ginny time to vault the wall and dart forward into the war-torn ruin.

“You?” Bellatrix spat as she pushed herself up from the floor. “Why are you here you muggle loving bitch?”

“Shut up! Jupitall!” Ginny sent lightning flying at the death eater and dodged to the body of the Lie Gou on the floor. Pocket. Other Pocket. Inside Pocket- THERE! Ginny's fingers closed around a tiny stone. The philosophers stone, she had it. Ginny rolled behind the remains of the desk to avoid a sickening black curse and jumped to her feet. “Come on! Come on bitch fight! Show me wha-”

The curse hit her in the chest.
*


Harry's eye saw through stone and flesh to give every hideous detail. His feet faltered on the stairs and he fell to his knees as he saw the spell hit home. The shining red light of the curse radiated out in waves from her chest, meeting her ribs and staving them in, raking through her lungs and slamming into her spine. Breaking it like a twig. Ginny was lifted off the ground and thrown onto the wall behind her. When she hit she didn't hit like a person. She hit like a sack of meat, leaking blood and sliding down the wall before collapsing on the floor.

Harry could hear nothing. The war all around him might as well have been mist. Harry didn't see the last few steps he dashed up like lightning. He didn't see the wall between him and Bellatrix, it broke like glass, sending shards ripping through Harry's skin. It didn't hurt.

Bellatrix. In his eyes she was lit up like a Christmas tree, the only thing that mattered in the world.

“Avada Kedavra!” Hate, rage and darkness flowed out of Harry like a river. The air before him flashed green like lightning. The remains of the wall were stove in and the shattered through the other side, it crushed past the cowering death eater like a freight train. Then, slowly... it disappeared.

“Well well well...” Bellatrix chuckled. “I must say I'm impressed-”

“Acerbus cuspis!” Harry charged more hatred and rage into another dark curse, fanning out the spears so the murderer couldn't dodge. Harry's feet bit dirt and he charged towards the bitch. She hadn't even stopped screaming by the time he reached her, slamming his boot into her face. Her scarred head snapped back and Harry dove down, grasping his hands around her neck as hard as he could. He could feel her windpipe crushing under his fingers.

“Ach... a...” Guttural nothing tried to escape from the witches lips. “Ach... a... a.” Harry knew he should just use his wand, make it quick, but red dots were spiralling before his eyes and even if he'd wanted to he couldn't have made his fingers move. Bellatrix's eyes rolled back in her skull. The bitch was-

“Aaa!” Harry was thrown backwards as lightning arced from the witches fingers into his chest. Harry could feel his flesh burning, skin searing off. He could feel all sorts of irrelevant things.

“Crucio!” Bellatrix croaked. Harry didn't bother to dodge.

“Excalabus!” Harry whipped his wand sideways, ignoring the blinding pain. The sword flickered out, burnt forward, flicked back behind Bellatrix's wand. Right through her wrists. One severed hand bounced off Harry's shoulder as he jumped forward, punching the witch to the ground.

“Accio wand.” Bella's fallen wand flew into Harry's hand. Her hand came with it, but that was a minor detail. Bellatrix sprawled on the floor, screaming, clutching the bloody stumps of her arms to her chest. Harry could hear the screams but they had no effect on him, his mind was drifting...

For a fraction of a second he drew his orchard around him. So quiet, nice and calm... Harry opened his eyes again. He was cold now, the anger was burnt out of him, gone with the darkness. Harry stepped forward, his wand trained on the woman in front of him. He wasn't angry any-more, he didn't really feel anything.

His eyes flickered to movement on the floor. It was Sasori, just recovering from the stunner. The Lie Gou'd eyes flicked up to Harry and his hand flickered into his robe. Before Harry could even think of casting a spell there was a rushing sound and Sasori was gone, portkeyed away.

Harry knew he should care. But he really, really didn't. Harry's eyes flickered back to the screaming woman on the ground in front of him. One of the two last death eaters, the murderous ditch that killed Ginny and so many others. Lying helpless in front of him, ready to drag to justice. He could take her to azkaban and throw her away for good.

Screaming, so much screaming. Orchard flowed around him. She would be locked away. Apple blossoms... Far far away... She had been locked up before. It didn't last.

“Avada Kedavra!” Harry closed his eyes as he spoke the spell, but he saw anyway. Not much to see really. The spell hit home, the force of it pushing her body a few feet across the floor, and her heart stopped beating. That was it. Nothing more. Harry opened his eyes.

The fighting far below was meaningless here... quiet... apple blossoms in the air.
*


Draco staggered to the top of the tower, retching as he dragged his tired bones forward. The fighting below was almost over, just the marauders mopping up the stragglers and holding the path open for them to get back. He walked carefully over to the office and spun in, wand raised. He saw Bellatrix, dead on the floor, with Harry standing over her. Harry's wand had fallen from his hand and he was just staring at the wall. Draco was about to step over to him when he saw...

“Ginny?” Draco's eyes flashed wide and he dashed to the crumpled form by the wall. “Ginny?... can you hear me?” She was dead, anyone could see-

“Draco...”

“Gin-” Draco crouched down, his face next the barely moving lips. There was nothing he could do, he knew that. Even if the whole staff of St Mungo's was here there would be nothing they could do. Only one thing... “Ginny are you in pain?”

“No...” Just a whisper. “Draco?”

“Yes?”

“I love...”

Draco gritted his teeth. He couldn't cry, not now. He couldn't, he just couldn't.

“I...” Ginny was faltering, drifting away. “I... love y-”

“I know.” Draco could feel tears on his cheeks. Damnit. “I...” He paused... too long. “I love you too. I always did.” Draco hoped she was too far gone to hear that he was lying.

Ginny's lips twitched, he could tell she was trying to talk, but she just didn't have the strength any-more. He wasn't sure he did either. Instead he leant forward and kissed her softly. She tasted like sour blood, she felt cold. He closed his eyes and felt the tears flowing, dropping off his cheeks and running rivulets down Ginny's face. Little drops cleaning lines in the muck and blood. The lips twitched once more beneath his, then went still. Very... still.

Draco leant back, reached his arms under Ginny and lifted her up. A little red stone dropped from her hand to the floor. Draco hesitated, the temptation to just leave the cursed thing there was almost too much to bear. But then all this was worth nothing. Draco grabbed the thing and stuffed it in his pocket.

“Come on Harry.” He found words somewhere in his throat. “Come with me.”

Harry's dead eyes came up to meet his and the boy took a stuttering step forward.

“That's right... follow me.” Draco walked slowly out of the office towards the long stairway. He looked back and saw Harry following him, still staring deadly ahead. “Good, just keep following me. We have a long walk home.”

And I'm carrying her every step of the way.

Even if it breaks my back I'm carrying her.
*


“All considered,” Sasori did not respond to the voice addressing him. “A total failure.”

Sasori's only response was to grimace.

“You have lost the philosopher's stone.” The old man stated calmly. “And your own usefulness has been severely curtailed. You no longer control the Lie Gou in Europe, indeed the whole organization will be out to kill you.”

“You don't seem too upset about all this.” Sasori could still taste defeat in his mouth, but he was not about to back down to the man before him.

“Upset? Why would I be upset? I never had any wish for the stone.”

“You are an old man.” Sasori narrowed his eyes. “Especially old for one of your type.”

“Only fools wish to live forever, and I am already far past my time.” That infuriating chuckle. “On that note have you given any thought to what you will say to the others of our little circle? There might be some question of whether you have anything to offer us any-more.”

“Are you threatening me? I could obliterate you before you blinked an eye.”

“Oh come now, there is no need to be unpleasant.” The old man spread his hands and smiled. “And you would never obliterate me. You need my protection if you even wish to survive the next twenty-four hours.” Sasori's gut twisted. As much as he hated it the man was right. He needed allies, he needed this man or the others would turn on him like wolves. Ha... ironic...

“You are right James.” Sasori bowed his head. “I need your help. Tell me what you want me to do, and what you want in return.”
*


“How could you let this happen? How could you send them out there!”

Draco closed his eyes and tried to block out the sound of Kingsley Shacklebolt's voice. He knew he should be saying something, but he didn't have the energy. Besides, the minister's anger was not directed at him.

“You knew this was possible. The death of any one of us is always possible.” Snape said harshly.

“She was not one of us!”

Draco shuddered, the marauders return to Hogwarts had been terrible. The order had been meeting and he had been able to carry Ginny's body directly into her brother's arms. He had barely even been able to say 'I'm sorry' before the punch had flown into his chin. He hadn't tried to fight back. The second punch had broken his nose, the marauders pulled the crying Weasley off him after that but after that the order had exploded, turning on each other, and the marauders, like jackals. They were splintered now, the arguments spilling into different rooms but Draco didn't know if it was any better.

“You knew I was keeping the marauders ready.” Snape continued.

“As a last resort! For cases like the ministry last year when all other hope is lost.” Shacklebolt's fists were clenching. “Not active, not invading a fortified-”

“It was my decision as leader of the order.” Snape interrupted angrily.

“Well I think we can safely say that that is over.”

“That is not your decision-”

“If I put it to the vote what do you think the result will be.” Shacklebolt jerked his head and two aurors appeared at his shoulders. “Mr Snape-”

“Professor Snape.” Snape hissed the word like a curse.

“I assume your professorship will also soon end. Since you will not be able to teach from Azcaban.”

Draco started to his feet but a stern glance from Snape sent him back to his seat.

“Am I to be told what I am being arrested for?”

“Endangering a minor. Negligence leading to death and so many other things.” Snacklebolt's voice was low and dark. “Dumbledore was wrong ever to trust you. We all were.”

“If I had not acted the consequences would have been far far worse.”

“Perhaps the Wizengamot will see it the same way.” Shacklebolt gestured to his aurors. “Although I sincerely hope not. I assume you are going to come quietly.”

“Running would indicate I had something to be guilty about.” Snape thrust his hands out sharply. “I assume you want my wand.”

Draco shook his head, he had to do something. But Snape must have seen the look on his face because he calmly turned to him and said, as the aurors shackled him,

“Perhaps you should check on your friends Mr Malfoy.”

“But-”

“Go Draco.” Snape allowed himself to be lead away by the aurors. He looked back over his shoulder. “And if you would take care of Harry I would appreciate it.”

The door slammed closed and Draco felt his heart drop. It was like the whole world was falling apart.

Harry.

Yes, Harry. He needed to find Harry. Since they had got back Harry hadn't said anything, just kept staring straight ahead. Draco would have tried legilimency but everything had happened so fast. Harry was weak, vulnerable, clearly going through something terrible. He had to take care of him. Draco grasped that thread like a lifeline and walked out of the room. Anything to not think of everything else-

“How could you let this happen!” Draco didn't look across from the door to where the Weasley clan was clustered. The twins were just sitting, almost as blank as Harry, Ron was crying into his hands. William Weasley was yelling. “When mum and dad wake up what am I going to tell them? It was my job to keep you safe!” The older boy was tearing up. “I was supposed to keep you safe...”

Draco tore his gaze away from the tragedy and kept walking. Harry had been in the Hospital wing. Draco could still hear the yelling from behind him. Block it out. Up stairs. Turn left.

Draco was at the door to the hospital wing when-

“Draco!” Draco whirled and tensed when he saw Hermione running towards him. “Do you know where McGonagall is?”

“I... No. Why?”

“They... they called my parent. They called all our parents.” Hermione kept pulling on a long lock of her hair in panic. “They're taking me away, they're taking me out of Hogwarts. They can't do it! I don't want to but... McGonagall must be able to stop them, she can stop them all-”

“All? What do you mean all?”

“All the parents are here, aren't you listening!” Hermione was breathing hard, on the edge of tears. “All the marauders. Our parents are all here, they're taking us out. All of us! There must be something we can do-”

“Draco.” Draco spun again as the door to the Hospital wing was pushed open and Draco saw Pythea stepping out. She didn't look as frantic as Hermione but on the seer's, usually unflappable, countenance it looked even worse. “Do you know where Harry is?”

“Pythea!” Hermione spoke before Draco could even open his mouth. “Do you know where McGonagall is?”

“Try the great Hall.” Pythea said distractedly. “Have you seen Harry.”

“I thought he was in there- Hey wait!” Draco called after Hermione as she tore off down the corridor. “Damnit, He isn't in there?”

“No,” Pythea looked scared, her odd eyes were wide. “Someone thought they saw him walk out but no one tried to stop him.”

“I... damn.” Draco put his fingers to his temples. The world was ending. Everything was falling apart. Find Harry. “Alright, just give me a second...” Draco got down on his hands and knees and sniffed deeply.

Hundreds of feet travelled these halls but Draco knew Harry's scent. The few benefits of being a werewolf.

“He went this way.” Draco led the way slowly along the passageway.

“Can you not go quicker?” Pythea asked angrily.

“Can't you just scry him out?” Draco shot back.

“No I can't!” Pythea almost shouted. “I can't see him, I never could, that's the point. Please hurry!”

Draco reached a staircase and hurried down. Another stair, Draco sniffed... yes. Down those too. Corridor... dammit. Draco followed the trail all the way to the great door of Hogwarts. The trail went right out the door, straight outside.

“But gran!” Draco's head came up as he heard Neville's voice. “I need to stay here, these are my friends!” The marauder was being hurried along by an older lady, his grandmother.

“Your friends? Friends don't get friends killed!”

Draco doubled over. That had felt like an actual blow. He should have been faster climbing the tower. He should have brought his own broom so he could follow her. All his fault.

He shouldn't have let her come in the first place. They all knew she was depressed. That was his fault too, if he wasn't so wrong she would still be alive. If he wasn't twisted, disgusting. His father had been right, he was useless... it was-

“The trail Draco!” Pythea's voice seemed to hit his legs before it reached his brain and he was already moving before it even registered. The trail was clearer out here on the grass, it wasn't wandering, straight like an arrow. Straight to the edge of the forbidden forest. Draco straightened up, his face ashen. “He went inside.”

“But he knows the centaurs will kill him if they find him in there.” Pythea was shaking her head in horrified disbelief.

“I don't think he even knows his name right now.” Draco sniffed again and hurried forward at a loping run. Behind him he could hear the seer following him. Harry wasn't making any attempt to hide his path, it was plain as day. But that meant it was plain as day for the centaurs as well. Draco tried to tell himself that the bigger trail meant they were closing in on him. Tried...

“Is... is he close?” Pythea panted from behind him.

“Yes.” Draco lied. All he could hear was his own breath in his ears and his beating heart. Sniff. Trail. Run.

“Stop!”

Draco skidded to a halt.

“What?”

“This is it. He's here.” Thea began looking around, glancing behind trees. “Spread out he's somewhere here.”

“How do you know?”

“All of these are apple trees.”

“Ah, right.” Draco took a deep breath in. Yes, Harry's scent was deeper here. The seer was right. And the smell was deepest coming from... “Harry! Thea I've got him.” Draco dashed over to where Harry was propped against the trunk of a tree. His eyes still had that glassy, far away, look. But at least he turned to face them as they walked up to him.

“Harry?” Pythea crouched down next to Harry. “Are you here?”

“Yeah,” Harry nodded slowly. “I think so... it's hard to tell.”

“Why did you run into the forest?” Draco asked.

“I... I don't remember doing that.” Harry shook his head. “I just... I was thinking about trees...”

“Well, we found you.” Draco put his hand on Harry's shoulder. “Lets get back.”

“Back?” Harry tensed, a fraction of his usual hardness returned to his eyes. “Back to Hogwarts.”

“Yes.”

“Ginny's dead.”

“Y... yes.”

“Voldemort's alive.”

“Why are you asking me that?” Draco shook his head, trying to make sense of Harry's questions.

“I killed Bellatrix. Just killed her.”

“It was self defence.” Pythea said soothingly.

“No it wasn't.” Harry was breathing harder. “I cut off her hands then I killed her. She was screaming before, she wasn't screaming after.”

Draco swallowed roughly. He didn't know what to say to that.

“I saw her heart stop. Not Ginny's, Bellatrix's. Saw her hit the wall, except that it was her not... Her heart just stopped.” Harry seemed to be drifting from thought to thought. “Saw her spine snap.”

“Let's go back to the castle.” Pythea said desperately. “Come on Harry-”

“Harry?” Harry spat the name out. “Harry? That's not me. Harry's dead. I wish he was alive, wish it were him here instead of me. The chosen one, must be strong or have some crazy power. I don't, I've got nothing... Maybe he would be strong enough. But I'm not, I'm just not.”

“Ha- Jack?” Pythea leant forward. “We can get through this, together.”

“No Thea.” A tear ran from Harry's eye. “I'm sorry. I'm so so sorry. But I can't do this any-more. I'm sorry but... It's too much. I'm broken. Something in me's broken.”

“Harry?”

“I can't. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.” Harry's tearful eyes met the seers. “Goodbye Thea.”

“NO!” Pythea lunged forward but she was too slow, the forest rang with the crack of a rough apparition. A flock of birds took flight from the trees around, dappling them in shadow for a moment, then they were gone. And so was Harry.

The world was broken. Everything had fallen apart.

Draco kept expecting him to reappear, with a joke perhaps, or for it all to be a trick. But it wasn't, and he wasn't. Beside him Pythea was just staring at the space Harry had been. The silence drew on, Draco didn't want to be the first one to speak, that would make it real.

“I...” Draco licked his lips. “I didn't know he could apparate.”

“He was having lessons.” Pythea sounded small. Small and broken.

The silence returned, dragging on forever. Draco broke it again, the words feeling like lead.

“So what... what do we do now?”

“I don't know.” Pythea was shaking. “I just don't know...”
________________________________________




Whew... That's the end of book 6. Hope you enjoyed it. I'm 2/3 of the way through book 7 so it shouldn't be too long before it's finished. It's been a long haul but we're in to the final straight now. So get ready for...

Harry Potter and the Three Mysteries!

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