October 1996

It was nearing midnight, when, with a soft plop, a lonely figure appeared in a deserted Alley. The man, clad in robes as black as they were expensive, pulled his hood over his silvery-blond hair and so deep into his face that only a dark shadow remained.

Lucius purposefully strode down Knockturn Alley, deeper into the blackened heart of the most infamous part of Wizarding London. A howling wind accompanied his every step, and he couldn't quite suppress the shudder that went through his body. There was something peculiar about the wind in Knockturn Alley, an otherworldly, ominous note. Ever since he was a child, this was the sound he imagined the souls of those condemned to the Dementor's kiss would make, could their last begging for mercy be heard by human ears.

Hidden safely in the depths of his robes was the reason for his nightly excursion. Two days ago, just as he had been about to leave his office and join his wife for tea, Lucius had received a note.

The Grey Crow. Day after tomorrow. Midnight. Come alone.

It wasn't the content of this note that had turned his world upside down in a matter of seconds, but the elegant script. After several years in Lord Voldemort's service, he was more than familiar with his Master's handwriting.

The precise penmanship, the elegant bow that marked the end of each word - for Lucius, there was no doubt about it: This letter could only come directly from the hand of his Lord.

The Grey Crow was a narrow, brick-built house. The curtains were drawn - probably to shield the patrons and whatever shady business they were up to from nosy onlookers. When Lucius pushed against the old door, it only opened slowly, as if it was offering him an opportunity to rethink his decision, a last chance to turn around and leave.

Drawing himself up to his full height, Lucius stepped through the door, and was promptly welcomed by a surge of hot, stale air. At the bar to his right sat a lonely figure, talking quietly to an old bartender with a pockmarked face. Nobody looked up when he entered, but Lucius wasn't naïve enough to think that he wasn't being watched.

To his left were several tables. A few of them were vacant, while others were occupied by small groups of witches and wizards. Only at one table, the rearmost one, half-hidden in the shadows, sat a single man. He wore wide robes and his hood was drawn as deep into his face as Lucius'.

Suddenly, as if he could feel Lucius questioning eyes on him, the man lifted one hand and gestured him to come closer. Lucius slowly crossed the room and slid into the empty chair opposite the man.

The man's face was still hidden in the shadows, and when he spoke his voice was raw, as if he didn't often get an opportunity to use it. "Lucius."

Finally, he looked up. Lucius recoiled instinctively and grabbed his wand tightly in his right hand, pointing it at the impostor under the table.

"Who are you?" There was a tremor in his voice; even though he tried, he couldn't completely hide his shock.

"You hurt me, old friend." The man smirked, revealing crooked teeth. "After everything, we went through together, after fighting a war side by side, you don't recognise me?"

"The man whose face you are wearing is dead."

With an expression of child-like wonder, which looked grotesquely misplaced on the man's emaciated face, the Barty-impostor slowly started moving his hands over his body. His fingers followed the slight curve of his nose, stroked his eyebrows lovingly, and rested on his cheekbones for a moment, before slowly moving down his throat to his arms. His touch was soft, like a lover's caress.

"I'm afraid I have to disagree," he said in the end. "I feel very much alive."

"You're insane."

"Maybe it's your version of reality that needs to be questioned," the man answered and, without warning, burst into low, crazy laughter.

Whatever- whoever this was, it was obviously a waste of his time, maybe even a trap. He should never have come here in the first place – but the handwriting… And his Mark had gotten darker too, over the last few months…

Lucius stood, and the laughter stopped abruptly.


He ignored the man and prepared to leave.


Furious, Lucius turned back. "Listen to me, whatever-"

The rest of his sentence got stuck in his throat. The man had exposed his left forearm and presented his Dark Mark for the world to see.

"Pull your sleeve down," Lucius said, so angry he could barely restrain himself from cursing the man. But it wouldn't do to draw even more attention to them, least of all now, while this moron was waving his arm around like he was showing off a fancy piece of jewelry, and not his Dark Mark.

He sat back down.

"Let's say I believe you," Lucius said. He wasn't sure yet what to believe exactly, but the Dark Mark couldn't be faked and the man certainly looked (and behaved) like he had spent a few years with only Dementors for company. "How come you're alive?"

"A loving mother and Polyjuice Potion." The man – Barty – stretched his arms above his head. His sleeve slid down, nearly exposing his mark once again and Lucius' heart skipped a beat. "But let's not bore ourselves with the details," Barty continued. "We have more important things to discuss, things pertaining to our Lord."

Barty had lowered his voice, but Lucius discretely cast the Muffliato Charm to keep their conversation private anyway.

"Our Lord?" Lucius barely dared to breathe. Moments he hadn't thought of in ages, scenes he had banned to the rearmost corner of his mind flashed before his eyes.

Lord Voldemort, glorious and tall, his wand held high, leading an army of white-masked, black-robed wizards into battle. He could almost feel the air vibrating with magic, could almost taste his Lord's seductive power.

But there were other memories too; memories of the heavy cloud of fear following the Dark Lord like a shadow, of the promise of pain lingering around him like a bad smell, of humiliation and ridicule...

"Has he truly returned?" Joy and fear warred within him. Their old goals were suddenly within reach once more, but he had denied his Lord in front of the whole Wizarding World. Could he still spin this to his advantage? Right now he was one of the richest wizards in Britain. He had influence and respect-

"I knew it!" Barty crowed, interrupting his thoughts. "I told him," he continued in an urgent whisper, eyes gleaming feverishly, "that you weren't to be trusted! That you didn't believe in him, had abandoned him in favour of crawling in the dust at Dumbledore's feet. But-" Barty grimaced as if speaking the next part caused him physical pain, "-our Lord is merciful. He is willing to offer you a second chance, an opportunity to redeem yourself."

Lucius waited for Barty to continue, but the younger man only returned his stare, a mocking smile gracing his lips.

Obviously, Barty was savoring this moment - it didn't happen every day, after all, that a Malfoy had to take orders from a younger, lower-ranked Death Eater like him.

Lucius swallowed around the bitter taste of humiliation that clung to his tongue. "What am I to do?" He was sure that neither his voice nor expression had betrayed how much the situation bothered him, but suspected by Barty's look of satisfaction that he knew anyway.

"Our Lord has a very special task for you, one that will allow you to put all those contacts you cultivated so carefully to good use."

"And what is my task?"

"You are to find Harry Potter and deliver him to our Lord."

Lucius smiled thinly. He had spent the last few months trying to find out where Alphard Black lived, so far without results. A letter it would be; a letter in which he had to somehow convince Alphard to bring the boy along on the next job. Hopefully, he'd get a hold of Black soon enough to satisfy his Lord.


November 1996

Slytherin's line is considered extinct. There are rumours though, according to which one of his female descendants married into the Gaunt family, where Salazar's talent to understand and speak to snakes lived on through the ages.

Harry sighed deeply, closed the tome, and slammed it onto the growing pile of useless books he had already perused. He wanted to find out more about his family, his roots, but the Potters hadn't been important enough to be mentioned in any history books, and the story of the Slytherins seemed to start and end with Salazar – who, having died about a thousand years ago and all, couldn't really be considered a close relative.


"Yeah?" Harry jumped to his feet and hurried to open the door for Al. The old man had been at the clearing today to pick up a package, and the long walk had clearly worn him out. He limped severely as he made his way through the door and towards his bedroom.

"Come along. I don't want to wait any longer. That bloody knee's been bothering me long enough."

"Um, what? You want to do it now?" Harry asked, overcome with panic. "I really think I should practice some more, what if I-"

"You've been practicing vanishing bones on animals for two weeks straight now. I'm sure you'll do fine. Otherwise, I'd never let you near my knee."

Harry swallowed the lump in his throat and followed Al to his room. He hesitated at the threshold.

"Come on in," said Al. "It's not like you're in here for the first time."

Slowly Harry walked inside. The room hadn't changed at all since he'd last been here. The walls were still as richly green as the woods, and there were still the same people smiling – or in most cases frowning – at him from the picture frames.

The odd, old-looking letters on the banner hanging above the bed and beneath the silver snake – Slytherin House's emblem he knew by now – caught his eye. He still didn't understand a word.

"What's written on there?" he asked, gesturing towards the banner.

For a moment, Al looked surprised. "Sometimes I forget how young you are, how much times have changed. In my day, everybody recognised this."

"Well… it's not my fault you're as old as dirt, Al." Harry grinned.

"Watch your tongue, young man," Al grumbled good-naturedly.

"So… what does it say?" Harry asked again.

Al looked at the banner silently – there was something longing, mournful in his gaze. When almost a minute had gone by, Harry was starting to feel uncomfortable, wondering how he'd managed to ask just the wrong question once again. It seemed he really had a talent for that.

"I walk past this every day," Al said, speaking slowly as if still lost in thoughts, "but I never really see it anymore." He jerked his eyes away from the banner and cleared his throat loudly. "In any case, the sentence is written in old German letters. It says 'Für das Größere Wohl'."

Harry raised an eyebrow at him questioningly.

"It means 'For the Greater Good', and this line marks an important time in our history," Al explained, "but my old books are too outdated to cover it. I never thought I'd return to the Wizarding World, and didn't really want to keep up with what's happening there, but you… Maybe it's time we order some new history books for you. Who knows what happened since then. For all I know, there isn't even a Wizarding Britain anymore," Al joked, but Harry didn't laugh.

His thoughts still circled around the words on the banner. What did they refer to? What was the Greater Good? Whose Greater Good? And why did Al put them up above his bed?

"Soo… For the Greater Good… I guess there's a story behind this?" Harry asked.

"Yes." Al sat down slowly, obviously trying to avoid putting too much weight on his injured knee. "But one for another day," he said through clenched teeth, his face distorted in pain. "Right now I want to concentrate on fixing my bloody knee."

Al pushed his robes aside, so that Harry had a good view of his knee, and fixed Harry with impatient eyes.

"Don't stare at me," said Harry. "It makes me nervous when you stare, and when I'm nervous I can't concentrate, and then I make mistakes and-"

"Harry?" Al interrupted.


"Shut up and get to it."

Harry narrowed his eyes at Al for a split second but didn't say anything. Al was right. He was in pain and Harry had a job to do. Talking wouldn't calm him down or help otherwise. He concentrated on the knee, imagined the bones he wanted to make disappear, conjured their image before his mind's eye; then finally he lifted his wand and uttered the spell.

Al cried out in surprise and immediately started feeling his knees. Where the kneecap should be, his fingers sank into the soft flesh as if it were jelly. Harry's stomach turned at the sight.

"Oh fuck… I vanished too much, didn't I? Shit! I'm so sorry Al!"

"Calm down. There's a reason Mediwizards have to go through special training before they start practicing. Given the circumstances, you did rather well. I have enough Skele-Gro to regrow the kneecap too."

"But it will hurt even more…"

"Like a bitch," Al agreed. "But I've gone through worse. Now hand me the package and then out with you. You don't need to see me like this."


Al had locked the door to his room, but Harry could still hear the old man groaning in pain. He'd paced up and down the floor before Al's bedroom door for several minutes, asking repeatedly if there was anything he could do, but Al didn't want any more help.

So after spending a tedious half-hour listening to Al in pain, Harry had decided it was best if he just left the house for a while.

He didn't watch where he was going, and in the end found himself at the edge of the forest, overlooking the smoking chimneys of the houses in the village below. His eyes automatically sought out the part of the village most familiar to him, the part where Courtney lived. He hadn't seen her in months, almost a year.

If he could only turn back time, stop himself from going to her house that night, and undo the whole incident.

But maybe it was better this way. If he hadn't gone there that night, then he would still believe that she loved him.

He slowly walked down the dirt road that led into the village but stopped before he was too close and sat down on the damp ground.

Cold crept up his body, but he wasn't in the mood for a warming charm. He wasn't in the mood for anything, to be honest. Al, the only person he knew and trusted, maybe even loved, was back home enduring a painful healing process he only had to go through because Harry had injured him during one of their mock fights.

The second person he had once trusted and loved was—


-talking to him in his mind. Great. It seemed his secluded lifestyle was finally catching up with him. He was going crazy.

"Harry?" A hand touched his shoulder softly. Quick as a snake, his reflexes honed by hunting and his fights with Al, Harry grabbed it and stood.

Even though he had recognised her voice the moment he heard it, he was still surprised to find himself face to face with his old love. The touch of her hand, warm and familiar, convinced him that she was real, not a figment of his imagination.

It seemed his sanity hadn't taken a leave of absence just yet.

"Courtney," he said her name hoarsely. He tried to fight against the onslaught of emotions, tried to remind himself of what she had done – or not done, as was the case – but his efforts were futile. Unbidden images of their time together, of running through the woods during the summer, of the delight in her eyes when he had shown her the deer, of her soft laugh when he tickled her, invaded his mind.

"I- I thought you had… um, you know…" she said in a small voice. She looked thinner than he remembered. Her face was gaunt, and her skin too pale, nearly translucent.

"You thought I was dead?" Harry said, the words coming out softer than he intended. Damn it. He was angry with her. Furious! He'd never wanted to see her again.

But the way she looked standing there, so vulnerable and innocent…

Tears filled her eyes. "Yeah, I mean Rob… he… I mean, how?"

"Got lucky, I guess."

"I'm sorry," she said.

For some reason, these words were the first thing that irritated Harry about their encounter. She was sorry? Sorry? Well too bad. He wouldn't give her absolution.

"Rob is gone," she continued when the silence became too heavy in the air.

Harry nodded.

His lack of reaction seemed to trigger something in her. She narrowed her eyes at him. "You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"

For the tiniest moment, Harry hesitated. Courtney immediately took a step back, her mouth wide open, her eyes horrified. "Oh my god. You did something to him, didn't you?"

"Of course not." Harry tried to sound convincing. He needed to steer this conservation away from Rob. Talk about something else… Anything. Sadly, his mind came up blank. "So, um, how have you been?" Harry asked, internally cringing at his weak attempt.

It seemed Courtney didn't even register that he had asked a question.

"Oh my god, oh my god…" She was breathing faster, her chest rising and falling rapidly.

"You are lying, I can tell. You always look down when you're lying. Oh my freaking god." Her tears started flowing faster, leaving mascara-streaked tracks running down her cheeks.

"Oh my god."

Suddenly Courtney took a step closer and started pounding his chest with small fists.

"You-" she breathed between sobs,

"want to know-"

Thump. Her fist collided against his chest once more.

"How I've been?"


"Miserable. Fucking miserable, Harry!"

Thump, thump.

"My life is a nightmare!"


"My mother lost the house."


"My brother is gone."


"You're gone."

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Courtney broke down like a marionette whose strings were cut. It was as if all her power had gone into her blows, and now she was left with nothing, not even enough strength to keep her body upright. Harry had never felt so out of his debt. With Al, with hunting, with fighting, things were simple, but here, now? What the hell was he supposed to do?

"I wish I'd never met you," Courtney sobbed.

Harry didn't say anything. Sometimes he wished the same, it would probably have been for the better. He wouldn't have become a murderer and she would still have a family.

They sat in silence for an eternity. By the time Courtney's tears had dried up and she slowly began to pick herself up, the sun had almost disappeared behind the horizon.

She walked away without another word, only turned around when there was quite a big distance between them.

"You better run, Harry," she said, her voice eerily flat, emotionless. "Because you won't get away with it. The police will be looking for you."

As soon as the last word had left her lips, she turned around and ran into the darkness.

For a moment Harry was frozen in shock. Then he stood and followed her as fast as he could. His wand had slipped into his hand without him noticing.

"Lumos," Harry said.

The warm light of his wand illuminated the night. He could see her again. She was running towards the village, getting closer to it by the second, but he could still catch up with her. Hopefully.

"Stupefy." A red beam of light left Harry's wand, but missed its target, hitting a nearby tree instead. Fuck. It was hard to run and take aim simultaneously. Especially as Courtney seemed to have realized that he was shooting something at her and started swaying from side to side, while still keeping up her impressive speed.

"Stupefy." Harry tried again and again, and finally, on the sixth try, when he'd almost abandoned all hope, the spell hit her in the back.

Harry flinched when she fell down flat on the ground. Hopefully, she hadn't broken any bones.

He immediately realised how ridiculous that very thought was. She was threatening to expose him. Whatever he was about to do to her, it would probably be more harmful than a broken bone.

He sat down next to her and stroked her soft hair. It felt just like he remembered.


He couldn't take her to Al. Al would insist on killing her. The old man would never allow someone who could and wanted to bring attention to Harry, and by extension, him, to live.

Harry looked down at her familiar face. The skin around her eyes was reddened from crying, and even in her stupefied state, there was hopelessness edged into her features.

It really would have been better for her had they never met.

At this thought, an idea came to Harry. It was so simple, so obvious… How come he hadn't thought of it sooner?

He would perform a memory charm on her.

He would make her forget all about him. About the good and the bad times, and then it would be as if she had never met him. Sure, Rob would still be gone, but the guy had been a useless scumbag anyway. Courtney was better off without him, even if she didn't realise that yet.

He'd tried the memory charm only a few times so far, and only on animals. But it couldn't be that hard to perform on a human, could it?

He pointed his wand at her. "Obliviate."

Her memories lay before him like an open book. At first, Harry wanted to erase all memories of his existence, but he soon realised that they were too numerous and too defining. If he took all her memories of their time together away, he would erase part of her personality too, and maybe damage her mind irreparably.

In the end, he settled for simply erasing any memory she had of his face and appearance. He put another face in the place of his, one belonging to some guy he remembered from his trip to London.

He altered her memory of the night Rob tried to kill him as much as possible. Now she'd simply think her boyfriend hadn't shown up and her brother had disappeared. Still depressing, still a lot to deal with, but better than the guilt of standing aside and letting her brother kill her boyfriend.

The moon shone brightly by the time Harry reached the last memory and erased every last detail of their meeting this night.

"Imperio." For the second time in his life, Harry felt a human mind submit to his will. It still took more effort and control, but it was doable.


Courtney opened her eyes, looking ahead unfocused.

"Stand up," Harry said, and Courtney did as she was told without hesitation.

Harry leaned forward and placed a soft kiss on her cheek.

"Go straight home," he said and she turned around and started walking away. "And be happy," he added in a whisper. She was still his first girlfriend, still the first person he'd known he loved.

Only one of them would get to remember their good-bye, and as Harry watched her disappear into the darkness, he desperately wished it weren't him.

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