IMPORTANT UPDATE (6/23/21): PLEASE SEE THE AUTHOR NOTES AT THE END FOR DETAILS!


SHAMELESS PLUG!

My first original novel, Strangers In Boston, is now available on Amazon under my pen name, T.S. Mann (get it?). It's free to Kindle Prime members and $4.99 to people who want to download the Ebook. Paperback copies are available for $12.99. The audio book version will be available soon. Check it out, and if you like it, please leave a review. Work on the sequel—Strangers In Dallas—proceeds apace. Chapters will be uploaded to my website and available for preview to patrons on the first of each month.

Sam Gabriel, the voice actor who is performing the audiobook of Strangers in Boston, is also reading Prince of Slytherin as a side project! The goal is an eventual (and 100% free) POS audiobook. More details on that later as they become available. He has completed recording the second book, and the full backlog of raw recording sessions are available for free download.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled fanfic.


Harry Black
and the Resurrection Game

Harry Potter and all associated characters and situations are the property of J.K. Rowling. I make no claim to ownership.


Chapter 13: The Quidditch World Cup Pt 6

The Devil's Tor

As soon as the crackling nimbus of Wild magic that had surrounded Pettigrew's ritual finally died down, the other two Death Eaters rushed to join him. Miss Direction pulled several vials from Pettigrew's box.

"Here, Peter," she said. Behind her, Mr. January's eyes narrowed at her concern … and her use of Mr. Norvegicus's first name. "Drink these. Blood-Replenishing Potions. And a Pepper-Up."

"Quite right, Norvegicus," January said blandly. "Your job's not done until the Cup's back in place."

Peter sneered at the other Death Eater. "I … know m'job, January," he said weakly. "Jes' gimme a sec."

Then, he grabbed Jim's wand and tossed it to the other man. "In the meantime, perhaps you should make yourself useful. Get that back to Jim Potter. Oh, after you clean my blood off it, of course. I assume that's within your … capabilities."

Crouch caught the wand easily. "I think I can manage," he said with a growl before turning and Apparating away.

Peter laid back on the rough stone of Devil's Tor and let the potions do their work while Narcissa looked down upon him with an expression of what might have been concern. Or perhaps just feigned concern. He knew all too well that it was impossible to tell the difference with her.

"You know … I think Mr. January might be feeling the pangs of jealousy," he said weakly.

"Don't be silly, Pettigrew," the woman chided. "He is a consummate professional. Why? Are you feeling jealous of him and the time we've spent together while doing our Lord's work?"

Pettigrew sneered. "Just hand me the Goblet and the toy mouse, witch. I've one thing left to do before I can crawl into bed and sleep for a week."


The British Sector

"You almost ready, Brother Mine?" George asked anxiously as he fired another Stunner. Luckily, the dark-haired girl (one of the Greengrasses, he thought) had an adequate shield spell, good enough at least to cover George while Fred hastily threw together some already-prepared potion ingredients he'd tossed into a bag before they fled the tent.

"Almost!" He reached into a pocket and pulled out a wrapped piece of candy which he tossed to Hannah. "Unwrap that, would you please, Abbott? And kindly don't eat it. It's meant for someone else."

Dumbfounded, Hannah did as she was told while Fred added the last ingredient. Meanwhile, Daphne recast her shield while George ducked down to grab a stick which he quickly transfigured into a hand catapult. Fred grabbed the candy—some kind of soft chewable with a yellow frosting shell—and dropped it into the vial in his hand. He stoppered it and then shook it vigorously for a few seconds.

"Right!" he said as he handed the vial to George. "Here's hoping I really am the smarter twin!"

George slipped the vial into the catapult's pocket and took a quick peek over the barricade to get his bearings. Then, he jumped up and shot the vial towards the attackers. It smashed against the barrier they were hiding behind and exploded into a yellow mist. There was the sound of loud coughing followed by three loud chirps.

"What was that?" Daphne asked.

"A Canary Crème modified into a gas form."

"A … Canary Crème?! What is that supposed to do?"

They were distracted by the sudden sight of three very large canaries taking wing and flying up into the sky.

"Okay," Daphne said. "Ask a silly question. How long does it last?"

"In gas form?" Fred began, only to be distracted when the canaries turned back into people … who then dropped fifty feet back to the ground, screaming the whole way. "Not very long."

Suddenly, there was a scream from behind them. Tracey Davis had been at the rear of the group and was caught by surprise when the remaining attacker targeted her with a Summoning Charm, and she flew into his waiting arms.

"TRACEY!" Daphne cried out. Instantly, Fred and George had their wands pointed at the man (who they still saw as a Death Eater).

"Drop your wands! All of you!" snarled the man in a fury, while the terrified girl struggled in his iron grip. "Drop them or I'll kill the girl! I swear it! I'll kill—URRRK!"

His angry threats were cut off by something wrapping itself around his throat. Something very, very hot. He opened his mouth to scream but was unable to do so before his mask and hood caught fire! Then, there was a hard jerk on the flaming whip which sliced cleanly through the man's neck. The Death Eater's flaming head went flying while the body fell forward to pin the hysterical girl to the ground.

"Bloody hell!" George exclaimed, while beside him, Fred fought down the urge to vomit. Daphne ran forward and pulled the body off her friend, all the while trying to ignore the smell of burnt flesh coming from the neck stump which had been fully cauterized by the flaming whip. The two girls hugged each other tightly as they both continued to cry. Then, a shadow fell over them, and they looked up into the face of Lucius Malfoy.

"Are you alright … Miss Davis, I believe?"

Tracey looked up at her savior with wide eyes and nodded dumbly.

"Obviously, you have been through a terrible ordeal," Malfoy continued in gentle tones. "But if you will come with me, I assure you that we will have you Portkeyed to safety momentarily."

Suddenly, there was another scream, one of anguish rather than terror, that drew Malfoy's attention, and he moved quickly in that direction. The Weasley Twins were faster, for they recognized the voice of the one who cried out. It was their father.

"CHARLIE!" Fred cried out in horror upon seeing his brother, the one who'd gone to rescue Amos and Cedric Diggory, now lying in a pool of his own blood from where he'd been ravaged by some curse. Cedric was next to him, desperately casting the few Healing Charms he knew, while Arthur was kneeling on the other side clutching the young man's arm.

"HOLD ON, CHARLIE! HOLD ON!" he exhorted through his tears. Amos Diggory stood over them, wringing his hands piteously.

"I'm sorry, Arthur!" he blubbered. "It … it just happened so fast! It was … one of those damned Australians! Must have shot a curse through the tent! Me and Ced ducked out of the way, but the curse continued on and hit your poor boy!"

Cedric's head jerked up, and he stared at his father wide-eyed for a few seconds. But then, Charlie moaned softly, and the Hufflepuff returned to his desperate attempts at healing. Meanwhile, Lucius prepared another Portkey out of an empty butterbeer bottle he'd picked up off the ground.

"Here, Arthur. A quick casting but enough to send you and the boy straight to St. Mungo's. I will send the others along directly."

Arthur was too distraught to speak, but he nodded gratefully, and in a flash, they were gone. Lucius looked around the assembled group, his eyes coming to rest on Tracey and Daphne, who were still hugging one another tightly.

"If you will all bear with me, I will prepare another Portkey to send you to safety as well."

"I thank you, Mr. Malfoy," said Amos Diggory, as he reached down to pull Cedric to his feet. "But my boy and I will stay here."

He clapped his hand on Cedric's shoulder and squeezed. "The Ministry might need our help, right, son?"

Cedric simply looked at his father and nodded slowly. "What … whatever you think's best … Dad."

Lucius Malfoy studied the two Diggorys but said nothing as he prepared to fashion another Portkey.


The BMW Contingent

Sirius led the four children under his care as best he could through the increasingly panicked crowd. Explosions, screams, and the sounds of various curses could be heard coming from all directions. All five had their wands at the ready, but thus far, they'd not encountered any threats. Of course, that didn't mean that there weren't any threats nearby.

"Massster," whispered Harry's snake tattoo that had crawled up his back and neck to make itself heard. "I sssensse a marked vessel nearby. It isss behind usss, but sssome dissstance away at the outer range of my sssensssesss. I believe he isss ssstalking usss."

"Wonderful," Harry muttered under his breath. "Any good news?"

"I do not know if it can be consssidered 'good' newsss, Massster, but it might be ussseful to know: the web of magic in the sssky that preventsss usss from fleeing with magic isss a modified Dark Mark."

Harry skidded to a stop. "Does that mean that someone Marked could Apparate or Portkey out of here?" he thought-asked.

Sirius and the others quickly stopped when they noticed Harry wasn't following.

"I sssussspect ssso." Harry fumed. It seemed that sending Lucius Malfoy a message to flee was a mistake, as he might have been their fast ticket out of danger. "Alssso, the Death Eater ssstalking us is now about forty yardsss directly behind you."

The boy whirled around, but he couldn't see anyone who looked like a Death Eater, just scores of panicking campers. As the others came back to ask why he'd stopped, Harry opened up his Legilimency fully. For a second, he nearly swooned under the overwhelming waves of terror emanating from the crowd all around him. But then, he felt it: forty yards right in front of him, someone was projecting not fear but hatred and cruelty. As he focused on the source of those emotions, Harry reached up and tapped the side of his glasses in a rhythmic pattern. The enchanted glasses were already set to provide him with night-vision, but as they zoomed in like binoculars, Harry gasped. For just a second, he could see the shimmery outline of someone hiding under an invisibility cloak and the glint of gold reflecting the moonlight. Suddenly, Harry realized that the hidden Death Eater was aiming a crossbow in their direction.

"Look out!" Harry screamed, but it was too late. Forty yards away, Tiberius Nott whispered two words as he pulled the trigger.

"Homorphus Animago."

The bolt shot towards the group while Harry and the other children ducked. Instantly, Sirius cast a Protego Maximus to cover him and the children. Unfortunately, while the tip of the bolt was only 50% orichalcum—commercial grade rather than from Boruslav Lestrange's supplies—that was more than enough to shatter Sirius's shield spell. Sirius let out a scream of pain as the bolt slammed into his shoulder. Then, his eyes widened in surprise for a second before he changed involuntarily into a large black dog, one which still had a metal shaft sticking out of his left shoulder. The dog gave out an even louder howl of pain due to changing with the bolt head still inside him.

"STUPEFY!" Harry yelled while aiming at the spot where the crossbow had been, but there was a soft 'pop' and the Stunner went through that space without hitting anyone.

Harry cursed. His fears were confirmed. Their invisible assailant was a Death Eater, which meant that in addition to being invisible, he could also Apparate freely. With an angry snarl, Harry knelt to the ground and stabbed his wand into the soft earth. "FUMOSSS MAXXXIMUS!" he hissed.

In response, a thick rolling mist practically erupted from the ground in nearly a 100-foot radius, enveloping Harry, his friends and family, and everyone else in range in an impenetrable fog. Then, he turned back to check on Sirius. Neville had tried to pull the bolt out, but the head snapped off and stayed inside the whimpering dog's shoulder.

"Dammit!" Neville muttered.

"It's not your fault, Neville," Theo said. "The head's meant to snap off like that inside the target's body." He looked up towards Harry, though even at this close range, it was hard to see his friend's face clearly.

"This is one of my … one of Tiberius Nott's weapons. An enchanted crossbow that you can use as a spellcasting focus so that the spells will affect whoever gets hit. Can I assume there's a spell that can lock an Animagus in his animal form?" The black dog barked twice and nodded its head. "Right. And also the tip's orichalcum, so it can pierce through our shields."

"But why did he force Sirius into his Animagus form?" Amy asked in confusion. "If he can put a spell onto an armor-piercing crossbow bolt, why not just attach something more, I dunno, fatal?"

Theo sneered. "Tiberius Nott likes to think of himself as a sportsman. I'm sure chasing an injured Sirius Black while he was trapped in the form of a wounded animal would appeal to him."

Padfoot growled at that. Then, from somewhere in the distance, distinct over the ambient noise of the surrounding chaos, the group could hear a loud whistle. Instantly, the blood drained from Theo's face.

"Oh no," he whispered in sudden fear. "We have to move! Now!"

"Why?" Harry asked in a clipped tone while looking around for any sign of Nott. "What is it?"

Theo swallowed. "The bastard brought the Barghests with him!"

"Barghests," Amy said while pointing her wand at Padfoot. "Sounds dreadful. You can explain what they are on the way. WINGARDIUM LEVIOSA."

In response, the Grim gave another yelp as it rose up several feet into the air.

"Let me do that, Amy," Harry said.

"Stop being chivalrous and think it through, Cousin!" she snapped. "You three know more combat spells than I do. I'll levitate Sirius. You three get in a circle around us and stay on guard."

Neville laughed despite the tense situation. "You may not know the combat spells, Amy, but you've got the tactics down, I reckon."

"I'm a Slytherin, Neville. We have tactics for making it to the breakfast table on time. Harry, you're in front. You summoned this fog, which means you're the only one who can see through it. And you are the dueling champion, right?"

"Why yes," he answered while raising his wand to cast a few spells. "Yes, I am."


Elsewhere in the British Sector …

As he limped along on an improvised crutch, Senior Auror John Dawlish wondered (and not for the first time) why he'd insisted on going to the Auror Academy instead of following his mother's footsteps and working in a pet shop. He'd been directing frightened civilians towards the forest and taking potshots at terrorists who crossed his path since the attack started, all the while looking for fellow Aurors in the hopes that they could mount an organized counterattack.

But there had been too much confusion to find anyone from the Ministry in the dark, and that was before this magical fog had materialized. He was pretty sure it was an overpowered Fumos, but he'd never encountered a Fumos that resisted his best attempts at a Finite. And to make matters worse, the crowd had panicked and then stampeded his position like a herd of startled cattle. Dawlish was knocked to the ground and then had his ankle sprained when someone trod on it. He managed to scramble to safety before he got trampled to death and then transfigure a crutch for himself. But Healing Charms were tricky, and he needed a few minutes of peace and quiet to patch up his ankle. Since he didn't know when he was going to get a few minutes of peace and quiet, he cast the Supersensory Charm instead.

The Charm improved his night vision somewhat, but the sounds of screams and explosions were overwhelming. Dawlish closed his eyes and concentrated. Years of training with the Charm had taught him how to selectively block his heightened senses, and he quickly programmed his mind to ignore those sounds that were confusing or even dangerous and focused on useful information … such as the sound of Pius Thicknesse's voice as he bellowed out orders from a position roughly 150 yards to the south. Dawlish pulled himself up onto his crutch and prepared to hobble that way when he heard a different and most unexpected sound from much closer. It was the sound of some large animal moving in his general direction at a fair clip, accompanied by low steady growls. The Auror looked in that direction but saw no such animal even with his augmented vision. But he did see several fleeing citizens knocked to the ground by something, and a few seconds later, he watched as that same something barreled over a picnic table, sending the food left there flying.

"REVELIO!" the Auror yelled.

The Revealing Charm struck its target, but to Dawlish's surprise, the creature did not become fully visible. Instead, it flashed visibly for just a second, revealing itself as an incredibly large canine of some kind, before disappearing once more. The Auror's eyes widened. He knew that there were some animals that were naturally invisible, but he knew of no canines with that property. Deciding to err on the side of caution, Dawlish listened for the sound of the creature's movement and then sent a Stunner towards it. There was a flash as the spell struck, but the beast did not go down. Instead, it skidded to a halt, and to Dawlish's sudden alarm, there was a distinctly menacing snarl. Instantly, he sent off a Cutting Curse in that direction, but there was a soft pop, and the curse passed through empty air.

"Shit!" Dawlish spat in frustration tinged with dread. Then, he heard a second pop not far behind him.

"SHIIIIT!" he yelled as he desperately whirled around and tried to bring his wand to bear. But it was too late. Whatever the creature was, it slammed into the Auror with the force of a wrecking ball, knocking him to the ground and pinning him. Dawlish's eyes widened in terror. He still couldn't even see what had attacked him, but he could hear its low, hungry growl, and he could feel its fetid breath just inches from his face.

"Unbelievable," he thought ruefully. "I'm about to have my face eaten off, and I don't even get to know what's doing it!"

Dawlish squeezed his eyes shut and waited for the end. But then, from somewhere in the distance, he heard a strange whistle. The invisible creature evidently heard it too, as its head quickly jerked up away from the Auror's face. Then, there was yet another pop as the creature Apparated away. Dawlish let out a slow, shaky breath and then pulled himself up to his feet. He needed to find Pius and report this … whatever this was. Then, he sniffed the air and looked down before cursing softly.

"Okay," he thought. "I'll cast a quick Scourgify on my trousers and then go find Pius."


Some distance away, Tiberius Nott took the bone whistle from his mouth and pocketed it. He'd held Sköll and Hati in reserve until now because letting the two invisible hellhounds run amok amidst the crowd might have drawn unwelcome attention from the Ministry. The plan was to pin the violence on the Australians, who were either using Muggle guns or wearing fake Death Eater uniforms. Introducing a pair of Barghests ran a risk—minuscule, Tiberius thought, but still a risk—of 'muddying the message,' seeing as how Barghests were associated with the Dark Lord Grindelwald.

But Harry Black, in an annoyingly impressive bit of spellcraft, had summoned up a thick fog bank that neutralized the advantages of Nott's invisibility cloak. So, the Death Eater Apparated to a position outside the range of the Fumos Maxima and between the campsite and the forest. Tiberius wasn't sure whether the blood traitors were simply headed for the forest to find cover or whether they were seeking to escape in the Muggle conveyance that had brought Sirius Black here at the start of the Cup Quarterfinals. But they were clearly headed in this direction. He loaded another of his special bolts into the crossbow and whispered to it.

"Portus: The Dungeons at Nott Manor." Then, he raised the magical crossbow to his shoulder, activated its magical targeting scope … and waited.


The Australian Sector

After twenty minutes of furious snogging in Delphini White's private tent, she and Bill Weasley might have been forgiven for not recognizing the sounds of rumbling in the distance. After all, poets and bards have often compared romance to "feeling the earth move underfoot." More importantly, at Delphini's request, Bill had put up a Silencing Ward to block the noises from the campgrounds outside. Despite their best efforts at seclusion, however, the two were suddenly distracted from the throes of passion by an enormous spectral rabbit whose sudden arrival caused Bill to utter a somewhat embarrassing shriek before falling off the cot they had been using.

"Delphini!" snapped a booming Australian voice that emanated from the Patronus, "The Australian Sector is under attack. People in Death Eater apparel, some of them werewolves. You might want to put your scanties back on and send Lover Boy packing! Then get to the VIP area! I'll join you when I'm able."

She exhaled angrily. "Typical," she said. "Always when I'm in the middle of something."

"What the hell was that?!" Bill asked in surprise as he picked himself up off the floor.

"A Flemish rabbit named Big Jake," she replied while hastily pulling her dress back on. "Buck MacMillan's Patronus. He's overseeing my Defense Mastery."

Oddly embarrassed at being caught in flagrante delicto by a Patronus, Bill fumbled for his trousers.

"I've never seen one that big before," he said.

Delphini smirked. "Oh, Bill! You've nothing to feel insecure over!"

"I meant a rabbit that big!" he said huffily.

The girl just laughed and then cautiously exited the tent with Bill close behind. Immediately, they were both shocked by the scene. While the fighting had not yet made its way to their location, they could now hear the sounds of screams all around, along with the crackle of the roaring flames that lit up the night sky.

"This is … terrible!" Bill said in shock.

Delphini nodded while contemplating about her mixed emotions as she idly cast an Extinguishing Charm at a nearby souvenir stall that had been set ablaze. The thought of violence striking the Quidditch World Cup was awful … and yet, she could not deny that something about it called to her. Or rather, to the last vestiges of Bellatrix Lestrange and Miss Demeanor remaining inside her. As the sound of screams grew louder, Delphini White suddenly felt a desire to do terrible violence, just like the old days. Only now, her targets of choice would be different. Buck had said there were Death Eaters around. And she wanted very much to find them and say hello.

"You should return to your family, Bill," she said while striding off towards the VIP section. "Though I would recommend zipping your fly up first."

Bill blushed and adjusted his trousers before jogging after her. "Come with me! You're not safe here!"

As if in response to the young man's words, a crowd of panicking Australians came tearing around the corner followed by a half-dozen Death Eaters flinging curses and another half-dozen partially transformed werewolves loping after their targets on all fours. Bill stepped in front of Delphini, his Gryffindor chivalry on full display.

"Run for it! I'll hold them off!" he yelled while preparing to cast a Shield spell to buy her time to get away. But she didn't run. Instead, to his surprise, she leaned in and gave him a peck on the cheek.

"You. Are. Adorable!" she said before aiming her wand down the street.

"FULMINATA!"

In response, a bolt of pure lightning burst from her wand to arc neatly over the fleeing Australians to strike a werewolf whose body promptly exploded with enough force to knock his compatriots to the ground. And with that, she was off—not running down the street towards the Death Eaters and werewolves, but simply striding their way completely without concern while batting aside the few spells that came close enough to strike her.

"CONFRINGO! AVIS OPPUGNO HORRIBILIS! PILUM ARGENTO! EXPULSO MAXIMA!"

As Bill watched in amazement, the slip of a girl he'd just been snogging proceeded to light up the area with curses. Lightning strikes. Silver javelins that struck the werewolves with deadly precision. A flock of birds with razor-sharp metal talons. And a variety of explosive Charms.

"Wow," he whispered to himself before jogging after the girl.

Moments later, they were approaching the VIP section when the unmistakable sounds of the Killing Curse could be heard. Immediately, Delphini took cover, with Bill close behind. While she'd been confident against the Death Eaters she'd encountered so far, she privately doubted any of them were true Death Eaters. Or if they were, the group's discipline had lapsed greatly during Bellatrix Lestrange's time in Azkaban. Whoever was inside the VIP tent, however, was proficient with the Avada Kedavra, which suggested a higher threat level.

She was also concerned about the implications of the Killing Curse being used in the VIP tent, but to her surprise, the most important potential target had survived … for the time being, at least. For at that moment, Alexander McAvity was dragged out of the tent in the company of three British Aurors. Though he was still alive, McAvity was somewhat the worse for wear. He had a long bloody gash on his forehead and was stumbling along with his hands bound behind him.

"I suppose it's too much to hope that the Aurors are just taking McAvity to safety, huh," she said ruefully.

"Well, since those aren't Aurors, I'd say no," he answered. "Black masks aren't a part of the normal Auror uniform."

She nodded as the group drew nearer. "Any suggestions?"

Bill blinked. "From me? After you pulverized those Death Eaters back there?"

"Yes, I know. I was magnificent. But they have a hostage now, darling, and sadly, subtlety is not one of my strong suits."

The young Curse-breaker thought for a moment and then whispered an incantation. "CAVE INIMICUM." Immediately, Delphini noticed a slight heat haze in the air around them.

"They won't be able to see or hear us," he said softly. "Let them get past and then attack from behind. I'd recommend Stupefy instead of lightning bolts though."

Delphini snickered at that. The two of them watched cautiously as the false Aurors roughly dragged the Australian dignitary past. Then, Bill dropped his camouflage, and the two fired off Stunners, immediately taking down two of the three Aurors. The last one whirled around and used McAvity as a human shield.

"Drop your wands!" he snarled. "Drop them or—!"

"STUPEFY!" Delphini's Stunner hit McAvity in the chest, and the man barely had enough time to register his surprise before he slumped to the ground at his captor's feet. The Auror looked down at the man in shock only to be hit a second later by Bill's Stunner.

"What the hell was that?!" Bill exclaimed as the two jogged over. "You could have gotten McAvity killed?!"

Delphini was unrepentant. "When in doubt, always shoot the hostage. That's basic conflict resolution."

"You're crazy, you know that?"

She smirked. "A little, I suppose. I'm told it runs in the family. But honestly, Bill? I think that's why you're so attracted to me!'

Sadly, Delphini's flirtations were interrupted by an angry bellow from behind them.

"FREEZE! DROP YOUR WANDS!"

The pair turned to see a group of wizards storming around the side of the VIP tent, all wearing the distinctive red coats of British Hit Wizards. Unlike the imposters on the ground, these wizards and witches were not masked, and leading the group was DMLE Director Corban Yaxley, who looked furious to see them standing over what certainly appeared to be three Aurors and a visiting dignitary, all unconscious or worse at their hands.

Delphini performed a few quick calculations to figure the likelihood of taking down all the Hit Wizards without killing any of them and thereby causing an international incident. They were not good. With an exasperated sigh, she dropped her wand to the ground and slowly raised her hands, with Bill following her lead.


The Luxembourg Sector

Thinking that the attackers might prefer to go after the more populated areas in search of richer target opportunities, Archie carefully led his two charges through the half-empty Luxembourg sector. While the Kumar Pasha and his entourage had left the World Cup early, there were still a few tents left, plus a bonfire still burning low in the central commons. But there weren't many people, and Archie hoped they could get through quickly to the woods on the other side and the carpark waiting beyond it. It was not to be.

Just as the three passed the bonfire, a voice behind them cried out "AVADA KEDAVRA!" Archie jumped forward, knocking Dan and Hermione to the ground in the process, and the Killing Curse flew over their heads. Archie immediately rolled over and came up firing.

"LACERO!"

Pursuing them were three figures in Death Eater robes. The Cutting Curse clipped one of them and he staggered but did not fall. The other two returned fire.

"Blimey!" exclaimed Dan Granger, who had no natural antipathy towards either Death Eaters or Australians, and so just saw men in white robes. "It's the bloody KKK!"

"Stay down!" Archie yelled before firing off a volley of spells. Two of the Death Eaters went down quickly, but the third (the one who'd shrugged off the Lacero) gave a bestial snarl as he picked up a nearby bench and hurled it at the wizard. Archie tried to dodge but wasn't fast enough, and the impact knocked him down and sent his wand flying. Instantly, the Death Eater—who was clearly a werewolf—charged the prone wizard. As the werewolf fell on him, Archie desperately used the remains of the bench as a shield to stop the dark creature from biting his face off, but the wizard still screamed as his attacker's claws dug into his shoulder.

Then, before the werewolf could press his attack, Archie was rescued by an unlikely savior, as Dan rushed forward, snatched a burning log from the edge of the bonfire and made use of it as an impromptu cricket bat. He nailed the werewolf in the face with the flaming end of the log and knocked him away from Archie. The werewolf rolled and came up in a crouch. Dan charged, intending to hit the werewolf in the head again, but the werewolf just thrust his arm up, and Dan's makeshift weapon shattered against it. Then, the werewolf knocked Dan to the ground with a vicious backhand before leaping towards the Muggle's prone body with both claws outstretched.

"SECTUMSEMPRA!"

Instead of a werewolf, it was only a splatter of blood that landed on Dan Granger. With a terrible yelp of agony, the werewolf was flung back and landed some ten feet away with long gashes opening up all over his body as if he'd been hacked at with a chain saw. The werewolf's body twitched for a few seconds and then went still.

Dan pulled himself up from the ground and looked around for the source of the curse. Nearby, he saw his little girl Hermione, her wand trembling violently in her hands and tears pouring down her cheeks.


The BMW Contingent

"A Barghest is an enormous hound-like creature created through Dark magic," Theo explained breathlessly while the group made their way through Harry's magical fog. They were also traveling under cover of a Muffliato Charm centered on Padfoot, whose bleeding they had finally stopped, and Harry hoped that it and the other Charms he'd cast would let them evade any other attacks.

"Grindelwald created and deployed whole packs of them," Theo continued, "but he gifted two to Cantankerous Nott Sr. back in the 1930s."

"And they're still alive?!" Neville exclaimed.

"Alex told me that they age very slowly so long as they're … fed properly." Theo swallowed. "He was really evasive on what exactly my father and grandfather considered proper food but … I'm pretty sure it's Muggles and Squibs. Regardless, they're also really strong and damage resistant, they can shrug off most spells, they're naturally invisible to anyone not of House Nott, and they can even do short-range Apparation."

"Short-range…?!" Amy sputtered. "Wait! How can they Apparate while under the Anti-Apparition Jinx? It's not like they could have the Dark Mark!"

Through all of Theo's explanations, Harry stayed silent, as he concentrated on maintaining his spells, one of which also required an Occlumency dilation. Mark answered the unspoken question of his primary mind.

"I sssuspect, my Massster, that the jinx which covers thisss ssspace only blocksss wizarding Apparition, and not that of creaturesss who can do so naturally."

Amy snorted contemptuously. "Well that's just ridiculously overpowered! What did your family even do with creatures like that? What did you even need them for?"

Theo grimaced. "Alex said our grandfather used them for Muggle hunting. Tiberius probably would have as well, but after the Dark Lord fell, he was afraid to go on hunts anymore, or at least not people hunts. If he were caught, it might undermine his Imperius defense. In fact, I've always suspected the main reason he joined the Death Eaters in the first place was so he'd be able to get his kicks murdering Muggles. Anyway, Barghests are smarter than most dogs and very well-trained, but they go into blood-frenzies at the scent of Muggles or even Squibs."

"Charming," Neville muttered, but then, the boy's eyes widened in concern. "Oh Hell! Dan! He's still out there with Hermione and Archie! And they're headed this way! What do we do?"

Harry's expression was grim as he finally spoke. "Simple. We kill these Barghest things before Dan gets close enough for them to get his scent." He signaled for the others to stop. Then, the boy closed his eyes in concentration. "We're at the edge of the mist, about thirty feet from the forest. Stay close."

Through the magical scope mounted onto his crossbow, Tiberius Nott watched as the four children and their "dog" exited the magical fogbank and carefully made their way across the gap between the campsite and the nearby woods. The Death Eater grinned. He had an easy shot at the girl, and once she was locked away in his dungeon, the rest became expendable. Well, not the No-Name boy, of course. Nott was sworn not to harm the filthy brat … physically, at least. The trauma of watching his friends be torn apart by the Barghests would be harm enough. Idly, he wondered if using a Portkey on Amy Wilkes would also cause Sirius Black to accompany her to the magic-suppressing dungeon cell that awaited her, since the injured Animagus was presently supported by her spell.

"I imagine having her cousin to play with would please Narcissa mightily," Nott thought to himself as he pulled the trigger. The bolt flew through the air to hit Amy Wilkes center-mass.

And passed right through her.

Instantly, the girl suddenly disappeared, though not from the Death Eater's Portkey Arrow. Instead, the bolt flew past the group to strike the wreckage of a tent, which was immediately Portkeyed to Nott's dungeons instead. The Death Eater gaped in confusion and then cursed loudly as the others vanished as well. They were Doppelgangers! With a snarl, he pulled his whistle back out and blew a short message to his hounds. They would not be fooled so easily.

Not far away, Harry and his friends were proceeding slowly towards the woods. They were under cover of Lucius Malfoy's Mass Disillusionment Charm, but the spell required those hidden by it to move slowly or it would fail. At the same time, Harry had also been directing a Doppelganger Defense for himself and all of his friends, though maintaining both spells was mentally exhausting and required a three-way partition of his mind. When the young Slytherin felt the Amy-Doppelganger fall, he released the rest of his magical duplicates and focused on keeping the Mass Disillusionment up. Harry had been annoyed when Lucius had actually demanded a thousand Galleons and a secrecy oath before teaching him the proprietary magic, but at the moment, it was worth every Knut. Then, somewhere in the distance, he heard the whistle that Tiberius Nott used to summon and command his hellhounds. He looked around but couldn't sense their pursuers … yet. The woods were only ten feet away. Close enough.

"On the count of three," he said just loudly enough for his friends to hear. "Run for it. One. Two. Three!"

Then, Harry ran for the woods with the others close behind. Neville was the last, and he was startled when a bolt missed him by less than a foot and struck a nearby tree. To his further surprise, the bottom third of the tree disappeared with a loud pop, causing the upper two-thirds of it to crash to the ground. Apparently, there was a weight limit to the Portkey Arrows, and an entire tree exceeded it. As the others pushed ahead, Neville looked around and noticed several small thorny bushes along the pathway. He turned and pointed his wand at one behind them.

"HERBIVICUS MAXIMUS!" Instantly, the bushes began to grow at an incredible rate, and within seconds, they had completely blocked the path behind them, and their thorns had grown to several inches long. Neville grinned and began firing off the spell at every marginally dangerous plant the group passed as they ran through the woods. Soon, the pathway behind them was blocked by a thorny barrier of unnaturally large plants. It might not block wizards and beasts that could Apparate, but they would still have to be careful where they materialized.

But then, Neville's blood ran cold as he heard a terrible howl in the distance … followed by a distinctive popping sound. An instant later, there was a second pop, followed by a howl that was much closer. After a few minutes, Amy had to stop due to the strain of running while levitating Sirius, so Harry had the group gather for a few seconds to catch their breath. He cast a Muffliato while they talked.

"They're getting closer," Neville said. "How far can they Apparate at a time?"

"Not far, I think," Theo replied. "No more than thirty feet per jump, I reckon. It's for hunting rather than distance travel. They blink around to disorient their prey."

Harry cast the Supersensory Charm. Then, he closed his eyes and focused on his Legilimency, now boosted by the Charms. There was another pop in the distance. Without opening his eyes, Harry pointed over Neville's shoulder.

"One of them is that way, about two hundred yards." Then, he pointed in a different direction. "The other one is that way, about a hundred yards and closing."

"Is there a Charm to mask our scents?" Amy asked.

"Not a useful one," Theo answered. "They hunt by the scent of our magic." Then, he looked at Harry. "Maybe we should split up."

At that, Sirius let out a loud bark, which Harry assumed meant disagreement, and tried to stand. But as soon as the Grim put any weight on the injured leg, he let out a yelp of pain and laid back down.

"Can we get that arrowhead out of him at least?" Neville asked.

"He'd bleed to death," Harry said, still with his eyes closed in thought. The Barghests were coming closer. Then, Harry's eyes widened as he detected a third pop less than fifty feet away, follow quickly by the plink of a crossbow firing.

"GET DOWN!" Harry screamed before shoving Amy to the ground. Theo and Neville both dove for cover as well, as another bolt flew overhead to strike a nearby tree. As before, the bottom of the tree disappeared, leaving the upper section to fall to the ground. Unfortunately, this time, it was falling directly towards Theo and Neville. Both boys scrambled as quickly as they could, but while Theo managed to roll free in time, a heavy limb managed to catch Neville's legs just below the knees with a savage crunch! The Gryffindor screamed.

Incensed, Harry turned back towards the direction from whence the bolt came. He couldn't see Nott, but he had a general idea of where he'd been standing. "BOMBARDA MAXIMA!" The forest was rocked by an explosion from about fifty feet away, and Harry was rewarded by the sound of a bellow of pain and fear, followed by a pop as the cowardly Death Eater Apparated away.

"With luck," Harry thought angrily, "the bastard will have splinched himself!"

He and Theo then rushed to Neville, who was still pinned beneath the tree and whose face was a mask of agony. "M-my legs! I th-think they're broken!"

Instantly, Harry and Theo both cast a Wingardium Leviosa on the fallen tree trunk, and while it was too heavy to move, they were able to raise it up enough for Amy to pull Neville free. Instantly, they knew the boy was correct, as both his shins and feet were nearly crushed by the impact. Despite the pain, Neville looked up to Harry with a fierce expression.

"Get the rest of them out of here, Harry!" he gasped. "I won't be able to even walk, let alone run."

"I'm not leaving you!"

"Just go, Harry!" Theo said heatedly. "I'll stay with Neville." Harry started to argue, but Theo cut him off. "You know that Tiberius isn't after me or Neville. We'll be okay! Just get Amy and Sirius out of here!"

Harry grimaced in anger, but he knew Theo was right, and he was faced with the cruel task of prioritizing his friends and loved ones. Sirius was injured. Amy was the least combat capable of the group. More importantly, as Theo had also realized, Amy must be Nott's primary target because the first Portkey Arrow had been meant for her. Up until a few months ago, Nott and Amy had been betrothed as part of some sick scheme of the Death Eater's to marry the girl and then steal her inheritance. What that inheritance was exactly Harry had no idea. But it was something important enough for Peter Pettigrew to stage a werewolf attack on Hogsmeade in order to kidnap her before Nott could claim her. But neither of Harry's adoptive brothers was a likely target of Nott's, and so, hopefully, they would be safe if separated from the other three.

"Alright. Keep your heads down, and once the Barghests are past, send a Patronus to Regulus for help." Then, he put his hands on both boys' shoulders. "Don't die. That's an order."

Neville chuckled. "Well, I'm a Gryffindor, so you're not the Prince of me! But I'll do my best."

Then, Harry led Amy and Sirius away, idly wondering if he should have hugged his two brothers before going. He still wasn't sure exactly when to initiate such gestures.

"Come on," he said to Amy, who levitated the injured dog Animagus once more while Harry Disillusioned the three of them.

Quite some distance away, "the bastard" materialized without splinching himself but with shrapnel from an exploded tree trunk embedded in his leg. And worse, the shrapnel had sliced his invisibility cloak. It still worked, but imperfectly now. With a snarl of pain, he sat down on a stump to heal himself before resuming the hunt. Despite his injuries, the Death Eater grinned. For once, his prey unexpectedly had teeth, which would make his hunt all the more enjoyable.


St. Mungo's Hospital

With a loud CRACK, Arthur and Charlie Weasley materialized on the floor of St. Mungo's designated Portkey arrival point. Instantly, the older wizard screamed for assistance, and several orderlies rushed over to Charlie, who was unconscious and ghastly pale. They levitated the stricken boy onto a gurney and quickly wheeled him into the ER. Arthur started to follow, but one of the orderlies yelled at him to wait in the lobby. Then, he heard a familiar voice coming from behind him.

"DAD!" It was Ron. The boy was racing down the hallway towards him with Ginny and (somewhat surprisingly) Draco. Ron skidded to a halt just a few feet away, his eyes widening. "Dad? Are you okay?!"

Confused, Arthur looked down. He had bloodstains all over his shirt and trousers. "I'm … I'm fine son. This … isn't m-my blood."

And then, to the surprise of his two youngest children, Arthur Weasley's face crumpled, and with a sob, he pulled Ron and Ginny into a tight hug while weeping piteously. Draco held back, unwilling to intrude on such a tense family reunion. Just a moment later, there was a second CRACK, and a larger group of refugees materialized in the arrival area: Lucius Malfoy, the Weasley Twins, and all the other children who'd been with them at the campsite. Fred and George rushed to join their family.

"How is Charlie?" George asked urgently. Arthur just shook his head dazedly.

"Charlie?!" Ginny exclaimed. "What about Charlie?!"

"… Dad?" Ron asked in a frightened voice. It was George who answered.

"He … he took a curse from one of those Death Eaters," the boy said in a shaken voice. "He … it didn't look good."

"Charlie's in the Emergency Ward now," Arthur said in a broken voice. "They won't let us in."

Though the door was shut, there was a large window nearby through which the Weasleys could only watch in dismay as the increasingly frantic Healers tried to save Charlie's life. Even through the glass, Ron could hear the spells being cast. Several of them he even knew, though he'd never had the chance to cast them. While the St. Mungo's staff were experts and could heal most magical maladies, it seemed that the curse used was a high-powered Diffindo. Strictly speaking, it wasn't a Dark Curse of the sort that would resist magical healing. But a powerful enough Severing Charm could cut through steel cables, and at point blank range, it could damage vital organs beyond the capacity of most healing magic to repair.

By this point, Molly had arrived, and once informed of Charlie's condition, she burst into tears. Arthur pulled her into a tight hug.

"Where's Bill?" she finally asked.

"He went…" Fred began before George discreetly nudged him.

"We got separated," the older twin said quickly. "I think he was helping some of the Ministry people. But he was okay the last time I saw him. I'm sure he'll be fine."

As the rest of his family talked quietly, Ron moved to the edge of the window, never taking his eyes off his injured brother and the Healers desperately trying to save him. He'd spent time working with Bhaskar Gupta and the other Healers in Shamballa, and while their magic was different in many ways, a lot of the procedures were the same. For instance, there was a bell hanging above Charlie's bed which was ringing loudly but slowly … and getting slower. The boy knew that the bell was enchanted to ring in time with the patient's heart, and its tempo was slowing because Charlie's heartbeat was doing the same. And then, just like that, the bell went silent.

"No heartbeat!" yelled one of the Healers. "Start a Cardio-Stimulant Charm! Now!"

Arthur's hand slammed against the glass in frustration while a devastated Molly buried her face in her husband's chest. Their children were all equally as distraught … all except their youngest boy, who simply watched the scene impassively. Then, Ron turned, strode swiftly towards the ER doors, and pushed his way in.

"Hold it, kid!" said an orderly as he reached for Ron's shoulder. "I'm sorry, but you're not allowed in-GYAAAH!"

Without even looking at the orderly, Ron just grabbed the man's hand, dug his thumb into the center of the palm, and twisted slightly. The orderly staggered back in shock and grabbed his arm which had just gone completely numb from the shoulder on down. Without hesitating, the Gryffindor strode right up to Charlie's bedside, shoving two of the Healers aside, and placed his wand directly over the gaping chest wound.

And then, Ron Weasley HISSED!

Pandemonium erupted as all of the Healers who had been working on Charlie practically jumped away in fear. Several people screamed upon hearing Parseltongue spoken aloud, and there was a loud crash as someone dropped a tray of potion vials to the floor. Suddenly, a new sound broke through the din, as the silent bell over Charlie's bed began to ring furiously. Then, the young man's whole body spasmed, and with a loud gasp, his eyes shot wide open. As Ron's hissing continued, Charlie began to scream in pain. One of the Healers stepped closer and watched in awe as damaged organs that should have taken weeks to heal in the best of conditions suddenly knitted themselves back together before his eyes. Within seconds, Charlie Weasley's seemingly fatal wounds had been healed. Charlie himself lapsed back into unconsciousness, but his breathing and heart rate were steady. Save for some faint scarring (and, of course, shredded and blood-soaked clothing), there was little sign that he'd ever even been injured.

Ron went silent, took a deep breath, and then slowly looked around the room. Everyone was staring at him in shocked amazement, including his family members who had followed him into the ER.

"Right," he finally said, though his voice was scratchy, as if he had a bad sore throat. "I reckon you all have questions."

And then, the Parselmouth's eyes fluttered and rolled back up into his head just before his legs gave way. Ron fell to the floor in a dead faint.


The Forest

After Harry and the others left, Theo did the best he could to make Neville comfortable and heal his injuries, but from what he recalled of Professor Lockhart's first aid unit, the damage to the Gryffindor's legs were beyond any Healing Charms he knew.

"Assuming, of course, we live long enough to get to a Healer," the Slytherin thought ruefully. His ruminations ended when he heard the sound of a large creature crashing through the brush in their direction. And to Theo's surprise, he could almost see it. That is to say, he could not see the Barghest itself, but he could see a strange nimbus that outlined its shape. Theo swallowed deeply. As the creature slowly approached, Neville could only hear the sounds of a low panting growl but could not identify its source. But to Theo's eyes, it was big, something in the shape of a huge mastiff but about the size of a tiger.

Theo's wand felt loose in his hand. If Harry were here, Theo was sure he'd be able to kill the beast with Parselmagic, but that wasn't an option for either him or Neville. Suddenly, the Barghest turned to look in their direction, and then, it charged. Desperately, both boys fired off the strongest curses they knew, but the creature was unaffected.

When it was within ten feet, a terrified Theo finally cried out "NO!"

And to his surprise, the Barghest slid to a stop! Theo could see its hazy outline as the beast stood still, and it began to sniff the air. Theo's eyes narrowed. Then, the Barghest cocked its head in confusion before taking a tentative step towards Neville. Theo moved in front of him and pointed not his wand but his finger straight at the creature.

"I SAID NO!" he snapped with authority. "BAD DOG!"

And in response, the terrifying hellhound bowed its head submissively and took a step back while giving a piteous whine. Neville looked over to Theo in astonishment while the Slytherin tried to figure out what to do next. The Barghests were well-trained, but he doubted that a command to "Heel" or "Play Dead" was in its repertoire. But the question was answered for him when another whistle sounded in the distance, and the Barghest charged forward only to bound over the two boys and the fallen tree they were leaning against to head off after their friends.

"Did … did you just …?" Neville stammered.

Theo nodded dumbly. "I know! I can't believe that worked! They hunt by the scent of magic, and they're trained to obey the magic of House Nott. I guess even after everything with the disownment and the Ultimate Sanction, I'm still just enough of a Nott to order them. Or confuse them, at least."

Neville laughed, but then grew pensive. "You need to follow it. I reckon it's going after Harry, and you might be able to help him and the others. More than you could me, anyway, unless you think you can carry me on your shoulders."

"But …"

"I'll be fine!" Neville said earnestly. "I'll send a Patronus to Regulus to say where I am. And he knows all those Auror-level Healing Charms. Now go!"

Theo took a moment to clap Neville on the shoulder before running off after the Barghest. Then, the Gryffindor summoned his Patronus and gave it a message to deliver to their friends. His message sent, Neville leaned back against the tree trunk, only to stiffen a few moments later at the sound of another howl drawing nearer. The boy gripped his wand tightly, not knowing which he'd prefer: A Barghest coming upon him in his current state? Or one that ignored him to go after his friends without him even having the chance to slow it down.

With a look of determination, Neville glanced around the area by the dim light of his Lumos. About twenty feet away, there was a large Blackthorn bush. He cast a spell he'd learned in Herbology that levitated the bush, roots and all, over to him before replanting it in the ground right in front of him. Then, he cast the Plant Growth Charm on it several times, along with a few more Charms that shaped the growing plant into a protective hedge while also increasing the sharpness and durability of its thorns. Thus fortified, Neville leaned back against the fallen tree trunk and tried to think of anything else he could do. After a few seconds, an idea came to him.

"Idiot!" he thought. "Should have thought of this ages ago!" And then, Neville summoned his Patronus again and sent another message with it. Only then did he lean back against the tree trunk to rest and wait for someone to come.

He was disappointed but not terribly surprised when the first someone to arrive was actually the other Barghest which popped into the clearing on the other side of the boy's improvised hedge. It growled hungrily before charging the bush. Knowing that his toughest spells wouldn't hurt the beast, Neville focused on spells to increase the bush's durability and size, hoping he could push the Barghest back. But the invisible creature was powerful and tough. Slowly but surely, it tore at the thorny branches faster than Neville's spells could repair the damage. Desperately, Neville thought about everything he knew about magical horticulture, and despite his youth, it was a lot. No one in Magical Britain knew as much about the cultivation of magical plants and also the magical cultivation of mundane plants as the House of Longbottom.

"It's in your blood, Neville," Uncle Algie had told him once as a child, back before the awful truth about Algie Longbottom came out. "It's your birthright."

As the bush started to break under the onslaught, Neville reached up to grab a branch with his free hand to steady it, heedless of the pain as the thorns dug into his hand. Suddenly, it was as though he could feel the plant in its entirety. Its need for water and sun and earth to take root in. Its pain as the Barghest tore at it. And strangely, its desire to protect. And with that, Neville recalled one of the memories that Algie had taken from him in his youth: the memory of being locked in a room full of Venomous Tentacula, Devil's Snare, and other deadly plants, all of which were content to play with the boy instead of tearing him apart.

Neville dropped his wand and grabbed hold of a branch with that hand as well, wincing as the thorns tore into the flesh. Then, he snarled out two words.

"Get 'Em!"

Instantly, the bush practically surged forward, its branches shooting out and wrapping themselves around the Barghest's legs, neck and head, seeking out any vulnerable spots. As sharp thorns lashed at the beast's eyes and mouth, the Barghest growled in anger and pain—and then fear. Finally, after several seconds, there was a loud pop as the creature Apparated. It reappeared some twenty feet away with a loud yelp that quickly receded into the distance. Neville sighed and gingerly pulled his hands off of the bloody thorns to rest them at his side.

"Good boy."


St. Mungo's

After a few seconds of panic, the Chief Healer in the ER directed that the unconscious Ron Weasley be moved to a private room for examination and observation. He also gathered all the Healers, Mediwitches and Mediwizards, and orderlies in the Emergency Ward and declared that the boy's use of Parseltongue was to be considered a matter of patient confidentiality and thus would be covered by their magical oaths. He then informed the other Weasleys that as soon as his examination of Ron was complete, they would be allowed to remain in the room with him for as long as they wanted.

As an orderly pushed Ron's gurney down the hallway, a shocked Astoria turned to Daphne. "Ron Weasley is a Parselmouth? How is that possible?!"

"Personally," spoke Lucius Malfoy from behind them, "I would not consider it appropriate to even speculate on such sensitive matters. Especially when it involves an intimate secret of a family whose members just helped to save your lives." He gave the Greengrass sisters a firm glare. "No one appreciates idle gossip or those who spread it. Wouldn't you agree, young ladies?"

Both sisters nodded meekly. Then, Astoria looked past Malfoy and saw who was headed their way.

"Mother!" Both sisters ran past Lucius and into the embrace of Winnie Greengrass. There was another woman who came with Winnie, one who wore conspicuously Muggle attire. Tracey Davis darted past Lucius as well and into the woman's waiting arms. They hugged and spoke for a few minutes. Then, Tracey took the woman by the hand and, to Lucius's surprise, led her over.

"Mr. Malfoy, this is my mother, Sandra Davis. Mum, this is Lord Lucius Malfoy. He's the one who saved my life tonight."

Mrs. Davis seemed dazed by the news. "Thank you … Mr. Malfoy. I mean, Lord Malfoy, I suppose. Thank you so much." The Muggle woman wiped a tear away. "I … I don't know how I can repay you."

Lucius gave a respectful bow. "Mr. Malfoy is fine, Mrs. Davis. My Wizengamot title is meaningless in the Muggle world. And you owe me nothing. I did what … what any self-respecting wizard would have done when seeing someone's child in danger."

They spoke for a few moments more before Winnie came over and announced that they would be Apparating back to Greengrass Manor momentarily. She also thanked Lucius for looking after her daughters, and he accepted her gratitude with his usual grace. As Winnie led the Greengrasses and the Davises away, Sandra Davis was in the rear. The Muggle turned and looked back towards him.

"Thank you," she mouthed silently. He nodded curtly but said nothing more.


The Forest

Deeper into the woods, Harry, Amy, and the wounded Sirius were proceeding as fast as they could, and the boy could just make out the shimmer of the barrier some distance up ahead. He contemplated putting up another Fumos Maxima, but Amy wouldn't be able to see at all in the woods under cover of mist. So they moved as quickly as possible with Harry straining to hear any signs of Apparition with his heightened senses. And sure enough, he had barely enough time to cry out a warning after hearing a pop followed immediately by the clink of the crossbow firing. To Harry's surprise, the bolt went wide, missing the group by more than ten feet to strike a tree. But surprise turned to horror when the tree did not vanish as before but instead blew up! The force of the explosion knocked the two children and their injured dog to the ground.

Instantly, Harry jumped back up and fired off several fireballs in Nott's direction. None of them hit the Death Eater, but they did start several fires in the area that gave off enough light for Harry to see. To his surprise, he could actually spot the man who was only half-invisible, as parts of his body could be seen through tears in the cloak. Before Harry could draw a bead, Nott Apparated again.

Instantly, Harry closed his eyes and dilated while simultaneously opening his Legilimency senses to their highest level. The pop of Apparition behind him sounded almost comically slow, but Harry knew its exact location. He whirled around even as Nott opened fire, but at this level of dilation, he could see the bolt coming with ease. Harry planted one leg behind him and leaned back as far as he could. The bolt flew past him, missing by inches. Simultaneously, Harry brought his own wand to bear and fired off an Expelliarmus before the shocked Death Eater could react. The spell struck home, and both the crossbow and Nott went flying. From her vantage point near Sirius, Amy pointed her own wand in that direction.

"ACCIO CROSSBOW!" In response, Nott's enchanted weapon flew towards her, even as Nott scrambled to duck and avoid the curses Harry sent his way.

But before Harry could press his advantage, his Legilimency warned him of an attack from a different direction. One of the Barghests had materialized in the clearing and was charging. Desperately, Harry threw himself to the side, but one of the beast's claws clipped his leg and he went down painfully. Forcing himself up onto one knee, the boy closed his eyes and dilated once more, even as the Barghest blinked again to attack from a different direction. Focusing solely on the sounds made by the monstrous hound, Harry waited until the last second before twisting around to point his wand straight at the Barghest when it was almost close enough to bite.

"SSSECTUMSSSEMPRA!" he hissed. The force of the spell knocked Harry onto his back, even as waves of deadly magical force ripped the Barghest apart and splattered its remains across the clearing.

"SKÖLL!" Tiberius screamed. "YOU FILTHY LITTLE BASTARD!"

In a rage, he fired off several curses at Harry, but the boy cast a Protego just in time. Then, Amy tried to hit the Death Eater with a Stunner, but he ducked out of the way and returned fire.

"INCARCEROUS!"

The girl screamed as thick ropes appeared from nowhere to wrap her up tightly. A second spell also bound Sirius who had been struggling to his feet to charge Nott. Harry tried to curse the Death Eater, but he was behind cover. Then, to Harry's horror, Nott flicked his wand causing the bound Amy to rise up into the air until she was about thirty feet off the ground.

"THROW DOWN YOUR WAND, BOY!" Nott bellowed. "OR WE'LL SEE HOW HIGH I CAN MAKE THE LITTLE BITCH BOUNCE!"

"You won't do it!" Harry called out from behind his Protego. "You obviously need her alive for something!"

"Alive but not necessarily unharmed, Black! I assure you that we have no need for either her arms or her legs! Now toss away your wand!"

"Don't do it, Harry!" Amy yelled even as she tried unsuccessfully to keep the fear out of her voice. Below her, Padfoot struggled and whined ineffectually in his bounds.

Harry glared sullenly in Nott's direction and then tossed his wand to the ground, and a second later, he too was bound with an Incarcerous. As Amy was slowly lowered back to the ground, Nott finally stepped into view, bloodied but victorious. He limped over to Harry, idly summoning the boy's wand and stuffing it into his pocket.

"The beast you slew was named Sköll. She was a gift from Grindelwald to my father's father. She was … irreplaceable."

Harry sneered up at the man. "I'm so sorry for your loss," he said sarcastically.

Nott snorted once and then pointed his wand at the boy.

"CRUCIO."

Harry Black writhed on the ground in agony. Behind them, Padfoot barked furiously while Amy screamed at Nott to stop. After three seconds of Cruciatus torture, the Death Eater released the spell. He looked down at the boy who he expected to be weeping and begging for mercy. But to his surprise, Harry Black looked up at him clear-eyed and with naked contempt.

"I've had worse," he growled out in a rasping voice.

Surprised by that response, Nott actually took a step back. He was just about to Crucio the boy again when a flash of movement from behind a nearby tree caught his attention, and he barely got a shield up in time to block a Lacero Curse aimed at his neck. Then, with a flick of Nott's wand, Harry's bound form was lifted up into the air so that the Death Eater could use him as a human shield.

"Too slow, whoever you are!" Nott snarled. "Now throw out your wand and show yourself! Before I see how the rest of Black's friends react to the Cruciatus!"

From behind a nearby tree, Theo closed his eyes in frustration that he hadn't been quick enough. He took several deep breaths to get his heartrate back under control and to reinforce his Occlumency. While he was nowhere near as good as Harry, Theo would need to remain calm and in control for what came next.

"Alright then, Lord Nott," he thought to himself. "We'll do this the hard way."

A second later, Theo's wand came sailing out from behind the tree to land at the Death Eater's feet. Then, Theo followed, his hands held a few feet from his body to show he was unarmed. Despite the circumstances, he appeared calm and even defiant.

"Ah! The No-Name brat!" Tiberius said with a laugh. "I was hoping it was you. Although I'm disappointed now that you surrendered so easily. You're a pitiful excuse for a wizard, but I'd have expected you to try something before just giving up your wand!"

Theo shrugged dismissively. "I don't need a wand to beat the likes of you."

The man snorted even as he dropped Harry to the ground in a heap. "No? Oh, of course! I've heard tales that you've been a student of some silly foreign martial art. Is that how you're going to fight me?"

The boy shook his head. "It's called Wu Xi Do. And no, I don't need that to beat you either." By this point, he'd maneuvered to where he was about fifteen feet away from his former father, with the others behind the man, all bound and lying on the ground.

"All I need," Theo continued, "is the truth."

Tiberius laughed. "Truth? What truth? What craziness is this, boy?"

Theo called out to Harry but never took his gaze off of his former father. "Tell him, Harry. Tell him the truth about Tom Marvolo Riddle!"

"Uh, Theo?" Harry stammered in surprise.

"Tell. Him."

Harry swallowed and recited the Secret that he'd learned from the Diary-Horcrux. "Tom Marvolo Riddle is the dark wizard known as Lord Voldemort."

Nott's head whipped down towards Harry in surprise, and then, he looked back and forth between Harry and Theo with an expression of almost comical confusion.

"Nonsense! That's … that's…!"

"That's the truth," Theo finished. "The absolute truth. That information was concealed inside a Fidelius. I've spent a lot of time studying that Charm over the last year or so. The Secret at the heart of a Fidelius must be completely true. If any important part of it is false or becomes false later, the spell fails. But the reverse is also true. Once you learn the Secret from the Secret Keeper, you can't help but recognize the essential truth of it, no matter how much you wish to deny it. Lord Voldemort is actually a wizard named Tom Marvolo Riddle."

Theo smiled at the look of growing horror on Tiberius's face. "And you know that name too, I see. I'm sure your father must have mentioned him at some point given how much they hated each other at school. Tom Marvolo Riddle came to Hogwarts as an impoverished Muggleborn living in a Muggle orphanage. It wasn't until after his Fifth Year that Riddle learned that he was actually a Halfblood, the son of a Squib from the destitute and inbred House Gaunt … and a Muggle."

"N-no!" Nott stammered. "Th-that's … impossible!"

"Your father knew the truth even then," the boy continued relentlessly. "Cantankerous Nott Jr. openly mocked Riddle for presuming to claim the Gaunt Lord's ring despite his Muggle parentage. And that's why Riddle had your father killed!"

"LIES!" Nott bellowed while gripping his wand so tightly that his knuckles were turning white. "It was Mudblood filth who murdered my father!"

"On Tom Riddle's orders!" Theo interrupted. "Your father was a genealogy expert who also knew Tom Riddle personally. He was the person most likely to pierce the Secret of Voldemort's fake identity despite the Fidelius. And so Riddle had him killed. Which also allowed you to become the new Lord Nott just in time to swear loyalty to your own father's murderer and to deliver all your family's wealth to his cause!"

"SHUT UP! SHUT UP! NONE OF THIS MATTERS!"

Theo sneered. "No! Of course it doesn't matter! Because you don't really care about all that Pureblood bullshit anyway! You follow Voldemort because you're a twisted sadist and you think Voldemort will build a future where you can go back to killing Muggles for fun. And that's why if the Halfblood Dark Lord Tom Riddle returns, you will be the first to drop to your knees and kiss his feet!"

"I SAID SHUT UP!"

"Although," Theo continued almost sweetly. "I suspect you might have to shove your wife, the half-Veela Narcissa Black Nott, out of the way first. I imagine she'll be on her knees before that Halfblood pretender for a different reason."

And with that, Theo practically leered at his ex-father. Nott stared at the boy in confusion for several seconds before he finally realized what Theo was insinuating about his beloved wife. And then, his face turned purple with pure, unfiltered rage as he raised his wand.

"CRUCIO!" Nott screamed.

In the distance, fires and screams from the campsite could still be heard, but the clearing was silent save for the deep gasping breaths of Tiberius Nott. Theo crooked an eyebrow at the man who could only look back and forth stupidly between the wand in his hand and the son he'd cast aside.

"I realize, of course, that I'm not as knowledgeable about wizarding law as your solicitor, Mr. Renwick," he said. "But … I do believe that was an attempt to harm me with magic. Something you swore two Unbreakable Vows never to do!"

Nott's confused expression changed to one of abject horror, and he began desperately flicking his wand trying to provoke a response from it.

"LUMOS! L-LUMOS! LUUUMMOOOS!" Then, in a moment of hysterical madness, he pointed the wand at Theo again. "AVAAADAA KEDAAAVRAAAAA!"

And the whole time, Theo just laughed and laughed at the Death Eater's distress.

"I guess it's a good thing after all that Voldemort is actually a Halfblood pretender! Maybe that means he'll be openminded about having a Squib in his Inner Circle!"

That comment finally drove Tiberius Nott around the bend. "I'LL KILL YOU!" he screamed. He threw the useless wand aside and pulled out a hunting knife before charging towards Theo.

Theo sniffed disdainfully before shifting his right leg back behind his left and centering his weight between them. Simultaneously, he brought both fists up even with his chin, pausing only long enough to flick the tip of his nose twice with his right thumb. When Nott was close enough to stab at him with the knife, Theo dropped to one knee. And as the knife slashed the empty air over his head, Theo No-Name punched his right fist as hard as he could into Tiberius Nott's crotch. The knife went flying, and the Death Eater let out a disturbingly high-pitched squeal before slumping to the ground and collapsing into a fetal position as tears poured down his face.

Theo rose and calmly regarded the man who'd murdered his mother and made his life a living hell.

"Millicent Bulstrode was right," he said evenly. "Sometimes, Muggle ways are the best."

The boy bent over to retrieve Harry's wand from Nott's pocket. Then, he leaned in close, and his aloof, sarcastic mask melted away to reveal savage pleasure at how he'd beaten the man.

"By the way, Father," he whispered, "it turns out that … I can control your Barghests."

Despite his pain, Nott's eyes widened in shock.

"Yes, Father. Despite the disownment, the Ultimate Sanction, and both our hopes and dreams, Magic still considers me your son, a fact that makes me want to vomit. Luckily, you've lost your magic, which means that soon, Alex and I will both be orphans. Now, I don't know how much time you have left, but it really doesn't matter. The truth is … you were already dead the moment my mother hit the bottom of the stairs. You just didn't know it yet."

Without another word, Theo No-Name rose and walked around Tiberius Nott to retrieve his own wand from where it had landed. Seconds later, all his friends were freed from their bindings. For good measure, Theo placed the still moaning Nott under an Incarcerous, while Amy recovered the crossbow and handed it to him.

"To the victor go the spoils, and all that," she said with a smirk.

"What should we do with him?" Harry asked while pointing to the bound Nott. "He can't share Riddle's Secret, but he can probably reveal that we know it. And probably that I'm a Parselmouth."

Before Theo could answer, there was another pop from the far side of the clearing. Theo turned to look and saw the faint outline of the other Barghest.

"We should go now," he said quietly. "Don't worry about Tiberius. He won't be a problem anymore."

With that, Theo ushered the group on into the forest towards the barrier. Meanwhile, Nott looked around wildly at the sound of Hati's growling.

"HATI!" the man gasped out despite his continued pain. "AFTER THEM! KILL THEM ALL!"

The only response was a deep hungry growl that slowly advanced towards the bound Death Eater.

"HATI! O-OBEY ME! GET AFTER THEM! I … I COMMAND IT!"

The only response was a vicious snarl now only a few yards away. And only then, did Tiberius Nott remember. The Barghests were trained to recognize and obey the magic of House Nott. But now, Tiberius no longer had any such magic. And through three generations of careful training by Tiberius and his forefathers, the Barghests were taught to kill on sight any Muggles or Squibs they encountered.

Theo and the others had only just reached the barrier when the man's terrible screams were abruptly cut off.


Meanwhile …

Back in the campsite, Mr. January raised his wand—walnut and dragon heartstring—to fire a spell towards a nearby tent. Then, he pointed it up towards the heavens and whispered a single word.

"MORSMORDRE."

In his off hand, he held a second wand—ash and phoenix feather—which had already been used once to cast that same dark spell.


The wreckage of Barty Crouch's tent …

"Weasley! Weasley! Percy!" cried out a familiar voice that caused the young man's eyes to flutter open. Percy shook his head and tried to sit up only to find himself pinned beneath a pile of office furniture. He'd nodded off for a quick catnap at his desk only to be jolted awake when the entire Expanded Tent shrank down to its normal size.

"Help!" he cried out. "I'm over here!"

"Hang on!" said the other man, who Percy now recognized as Director Crouch himself. The man staggered into view, his clothes disheveled. With a gesture of his wand, the furniture flew off of Percy.

"Are you alright, lad?"

Percy pulled himself up from the floor. "I think so, sir," he coughed. "Bruised but nothing serious. What happened?!"

"No idea, except to say that some curse struck the tent and caused the Spatial Expansion Charms to fail. We're lucky we weren't crushed." Crouch paused. "Winky! Winky! Where are you?! Winky!"

"Perhaps she went to get help," Percy said.

"Perhaps. Let's get the hell out of here and find out what in blazes is going on!"

Percy followed his boss out of the ruined tent only to freeze in horror at the image hanging in the sky.


The Australian Sector

Nearby, Delphini White was beginning to wish she'd kept her wand and simply rendered the British Aurors unconscious, diplomatic consequences be damned. It didn't help her mood to realize that the Ministry official interrogating her quite rudely for her actions was someone she knew perfectly well was a Death Eater.

"Look, Mr. Yucky, or whatever your name is …!"

"Yaxley!" the angry man interrupted.

"Whatever," Delphini snapped. "If you don't believe us, wake up McAvity! He can confirm what we said. Or at the very least, find out who these masked men are who were attempting to kidnap the man! Or are you admitting that they really are British Aurors sent to do something nefarious to one of our officials?!"

Yaxley's angry retort was cut off when a blast of green light shot from a position not far away. It flew up into the sky to the heart of the magical lattice and destroyed it. But the destruction of the barrier was not met with cheers of relief but rather by even more terror. In its place, there was now a glowing green symbol that lit up the night sky, the same one that had lit up the skies over the Devil's Tor, though no outsiders were on hand to witness that manifestation. Here, however, thousands gazed up in terrified fascination at the Dark Mark that served as the calling card for Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters.

Seemingly in response to the Mark's appearance, there were loud pops all around the campsite as the attacking forces—whether they appeared to be Australian hooligans or Death Eaters, whether they were alive, dead, or somewhere in between—all vanished simultaneously. Among their number were the three unconscious "Aurors" who had been manhandling Alexander McAvity.

The Ministry personnel who had accompanied Yaxley looked around wildly in panic at the Dark Mark's appearance. Even Delphini suppressed a shudder at the terrible sight, for it now meant something quite different to her than it had before her true personality was restored. Only Yaxley looked up at the glowing green skull without fear or even surprise, a fact that Delphini quietly noted.

Yaxley looked back to Delphini and Bill as if searching for a way to blame them for the Dark Mark even though they were wandless. Before he could speak a word, the group was distracted by a small bonfire erupting out of nowhere. Then flames vanished quickly to reveal the surprising and welcome presence of Albus Dumbledore standing tall and proud with Fawkes on his shoulder. The old wizard took but a moment to assess the situation and then raise his wand aloft.

"MERGIT FLAMMARUM MAXIMA!"

A wave of magical energy swept across the entire campsite, and all the fires that had been set by the attackers were instantly snuffed out.

"Dumbledore!" Yaxley snapped. "What are you doing here?"

"Not as much as I could have had I arrived earlier, I fear," the Headmaster said ruefully. "I received a Patronus message from young Neville Longbottom alerting me that the Quidditch World Cup was under attack by Death Eaters. I came as soon as I could."

Dumbledore looked up to the Dark Mark hanging in the sky, and his expression darkened. Over the next several minutes, the old wizard completed a series of complex gestures meant to dispel the ghastly image.

"Now, what has been happening here?" he said over his shoulder while he worked to undo the Dark Mark. "And why in Merlin's name are you all standing around the unconscious body of an important foreign dignitary without rendering him any aid?"

"Well don't blame me?" Delphini said petulantly. "Director Yak's Breath threatened to hex us both if we didn't drop our wands."

Ignoring Yaxley's furious sputtering, Delphini bent down to retrieve her wand and promptly cast a Renervate on McAvity. Bill helped the groggy man to his feet.

"There were no Death Eaters, Dumbledore!" Yaxley spat. "Everything we have seen so far indicates that it was a bunch of Australian hooligans cheaply disguised as Death Eaters. Probably as part of some scheme cooked up by the Dark Lord McAvity here!"

At that, the normally unflappable McAvity finally lost his temper.

"How dare you, Yaxley! How fucking dare you try to blame me for this chaos when it was British Aurors who attacked my tent, injured or killed several of my staff, and dragged me away with threats to execute me! Had it not been for these two young people, I'd be dead by now!"

"Enough!" Dumbledore said authoritatively. "Alexander, I find it difficult to believe that the British Ministry would be involved in a scheme to assassinate you. Certainly not under these bizarre circumstances. Likewise, Director Yaxley, I find it equally difficult to believe that Australian Quidditch hooligans would be able to convincingly recreate the Dark Mark, a spell with which I am quite familiar. Obviously, more is going on here than is apparent. Might I suggest we focus on tending to the injured while also investigating the origin of the Dark Mark that we all just witnessed?"

"I'm pretty sure it came from over that way, Headmaster," said Bill helpfully.

"Well spotted, William," the old wizard said. With a final flourish of Dumbledore's wand, the Dark Mark faded away, and he turned to face the others. "Lead on. Director Yaxley, might I suggest you contact St. Mungo's and arrange transport for the injured now that the anti-Apparition and anti-Portkey jinxes have been undone?"

"You're not my boss, Dumbledore," Yaxley said angrily.

"Of course not, dear boy," Dumbledore replied, completely ignoring the man's attitude. "That was why I phrased it as a reasonable suggestion that any sensible man would follow instead of as a direct order."

Yaxley glared at the Chief Warlock for a few seconds before he turned and began barking out orders to the DMLE personnel who accompanied him. In the meantime, a contingent of Australian Aurors led by Buck MacMillan arrived. After conferring with McAvity, they offered their services as battlefield medics, though Buck himself insisted on staying close to McAvity, who Yaxley still seemed eager to arrest on whatever charges seemed the most plausible.


St. Mungo's

Ron's eyes fluttered open, and he raised his head to look around. He was lying in a bed in a private hospital room with most of his family present. Molly and Arthur stood to his left, looking pensive but still overjoyed to see him awake. Behind them, he could see Charlie, who was sleeping peacefully in another bed. Ginny and the Twins were at the foot of the bed. Only Bill and Percy were absent.

To Ron's right stood three Healers who introduced themselves as Healers Crenshaw, Chang, and Dagworth-Granger.

Healer Crenshaw was the first to speak. "How are you feeling, Mr. Weasley?"

"Fine," the boy said nervously. "And please, call me Ron."

"I'm glad to hear that, Ron. I'm the Chief of Pediatric Medicine here at St. Mungo's. Healer Chang is Chief of the Emergency Ward, while Healer Dagworth-Granger works in the Spell Damage Ward. We'd like to ask you a few questions about exactly what you did for your brother."

"Is Charlie going to be okay?" Ron asked suddenly.

"Your brother is fine, Ron," said Healer Chang. "Remarkably so, considering the severity of his injuries. That you could heal him so quickly—and through the use of what seems to be Parseltongue—is astonishing. However did you acquire that gift at such a young age?"

"You don't have to answer that," said Ginny from the foot of the bed. Everyone turned to look at the young girl in surprise. She just turned to Healer Crenshaw. "That's right, isn't it? He's a minor and his parents are here, so he can't be interrogated without permission, correct?"

Crenshaw looked taken aback but then smiled. "That's correct, young lady. But I promise you, this is not an 'interrogation.' And before we go any further, I want to assure you all that all of the hospital personnel who witnessed Ron's amazing feat have sworn a Healer's Oath not to reveal it. Nor will we reveal anything Ron tells us without his consent or that of your parents."

"To be honest, Ron," said Dagworth-Granger. "I'm a bit jealous. I undertook a study of Parseltongue many years ago in hopes of learning to use it in healing magic, but I didn't last a month!"

Ron winced, as his method for learning the skill suddenly felt like cheating. "If it's all the same, I'd rather not talk about how I learned it right now. Not until after I've talked with my Mum and Dad."

"That's perfectly understandable," said Crenshaw. "Would you feel more comfortable just telling us what spells you used?"

The boy looked bashfully up at his parents, who were supportive but didn't seem to know what to say. Then, to his own surprise, he looked at Ginny, who gave a slight shrug as if to say "That's probably okay."

"Um, I used a couple of Episkeys, but they weren't getting the job done, so I switched to Vulnera Sanatur. About three of those were enough to heal his … well, his insides, I guess. I tried to do a Brackium Emendo but couldn't figure out how to say it on account of it not having any S's. Oh, and I started with a Samsara just to get his heart going while I did the other stuff."

The Healers looked at one another in amazement. But before they could ask any more questions, a Mediwitch came in with a chart for Healer Chang that caused him to blanch. Meanwhile, Crenshaw continued with his questions.

"How do you feel now, Ron? And do you know what caused you to pass out?"

"I feel fine. I just needed a nap, I guess. It's the Samsara that always does me in."

"Always?" Dagworth-Granger said in amazement. "That's an incredibly difficult spell! And dangerous too! How many times have you used it and incorporated Parseltongue?"

Ron blushed. "I used it a few times helping with Healer Gupta when I spent the summer in Shamballa, but he told me never to use it with Parseltongue. But, well … tonight was the third time I did it that way. At least this time, I managed to catch myself before I overdid it."

"Ronald!" exclaimed Molly.

"It was an emergency, Mum!" the boy interrupted. "Charlie was dying! I couldn't just sit there and do nothing!"

"Shh! It's alright, Ronnie," said Arthur as he put his hand on the boy's shoulder.

"Okay, Ron," Chang asked. "Do you mean to say that using Samsara is the only reason you passed out? That you can cast Vulnera Sanatur with Parseltongue safely?"

He shrugged. "I think so."

"Why are you asking, Healer Chang?" asked Arthur.

The three Healers looked to one another with an anxious expression.

"Because the first wave of casualties from the attack on the Quidditch World Cup are about to arrive shortly," he said gravely. "It's bad, Mr. Weasley. Very bad. And … we were hoping we could prevail upon your son to, well, work a few more miracles for us."


Back at the campsite …

Unaware of the drama unfolding around his youngest brother, Bill Weasley led Dumbledore and the Aurors to what he believed was the source of the Dark Mark. It had emanated from somewhere in the British Sector. Along the way, they picked up other Ministry personnel: Barty Crouch, Percy Weasley, Ludo Bagman, and Amos Diggory, as well as Diggory's son, who seemed quite shaken for someone with no visible injuries. For his part, Amos seemed surprised to see Percy and Bill.

"I say, you're two of Arthur's boys, aren't you? Why aren't you at St. Mungo's?"

The two looked at one another in confusion.

"My injuries aren't severe, Mr. Diggory," said Percy. "And I'm happy to stay here and assist Mr. Crouch."

"Oh, dear! You haven't heard!" Amos said with an ashen expression. Beside him, Cedric suddenly looked ill.

"Heard what?" Bill asked, his eyes narrowing.

"It's your brother Charlie," said Cedric. He glanced over at Amos who stared at him intensely. "He took a curse from … from whoever it was that attacked us." The boy swallowed painfully. "I'm sorry, Bill, but … it didn't look good."

Bill and Percy both went pale at the news. Barty put his hand on Percy's shoulder.

"I think you two should go to St. Mungo's and be with your family. Albus, would you be so good as to fashion a Portkey?"

"I don't think even Albus Dumbledore has the authority to create Portkeys at will, Crouch," Yaxley snapped.

"Well then," Barty replied bitingly. "It's a good thing I have the legal authority to authorize emergency Portkeys as needed!"

Moments later, the two Weasley sons departed, and the others continued on towards the origin point for the Dark Mark, which, to everyone's surprise, was quite near the wreckage of Barty Crouch's tent. The older wizard frowned in consternation.

"I'll wager the same person who attacked Weasley and myself was also the blighter who cast the Dark Mark."

"Over here!" called out Yaxley. "I found someone! Well, something!"

The DMLE Director emerged from the shadows cradling a small form in his arms. "It's a house elf!"

"Ahh!" Crouch cried out in distress. "Winky! What's happened to her?!"

"She appears to have been stunned, Director Crouch," Yaxley said while laying Winky down gently. Then, he took a closer look. The elf wore her usual attire: a smock bearing the crest of House Crouch over a simple dress. And the smock had one large pocket out of which something was sticking. Yaxley reached in to remove the object and held it up so the others could see. It was a wand.

"Hey! That's mine!" cried Jim Potter, who was running up to the scene along with his parents. Yaxley frowned at James Potter's presence but said nothing about it. Instead, he turned to the Boy-Who-Lived.

"You are certain this is your wand, Jim?" he asked.

Jim grimaced slightly at the thought of a marked Death Eater calling him by his first name. "Yes, absolutely." But when he reached out for it, Yaxley demurred.

"Not just yet, Jim. This wand was found at a crime scene after all." Then, to the surprise of all the Potters, Yaxley turned to Dumbledore. "Chief Warlock, normally I would have an Auror handle this, but given the … sensitivity of the parties involved, would you consent to performing the Priori Incantato?"

Dumbledore crooked a suspicious eyebrow but took the wand anyway and cast the Charm to reveal what spells it had been used to cast. Immediately, a much smaller version of the Dark Mark appeared over it, and the word "Morsmordre" seemed to whisper from the ash wand.

"So the wand of the Boy-Who-Lived was used to summon the Dark Mark!" Amos Diggory gasped.

Barty Crouch nodded grimly. "I'll wager that's why someone cursed my tent to collapse, almost crushing Percy Weasley and myself! Only then was young Potter's wand used to summon the Dark Mark. Presumably, the attacker feared that I might have recognized the incantation Morsmordre and come out to catch him or her in the act."

Crouch slashed his wand angrily in the direction of the tiny skull floating above Jim's wand, and it dissipated instantly.

Dumbledore addressed Yaxley. "I can confirm that other than that one spell, this wand has not been used to perform magic within at least the last several days. That is as far back as even my Priori Incantato can reveal. Do you think the wand has any other evidentiary value, Corban? Or can we return it at last to its true owner?"

"By all means, Dumbledore," said Yaxley dismissively. "But now, perhaps we should hear from Crouch's elf and find out how it came into her possession. If you would please, Diggory? Beasts and whatnot are your forte."

Dumbledore handed the wand off to a grateful and relieved Jim Potter while Amos Diggory stepped forward with his wand raised. While casting the spell to awaken the house elf, he glanced over at Crouch, who looked concerned.

"Bad business this, Barty. An elf with a wand. That's clause three of the Code of Wand Use broken, for a start. No non-human creature is permitted to carry or use a wand."

"Is this really the time, Diggory?" Crouch said with a glare.

"The law is the law, Crouch," Amos said imperiously before turning back to Winky. "RENERVATE!"

Winky slowly came to her senses and then looked around in confusion. When she made eye contact with Barty Crouch, her eyes began to water.

"Elf!" said Mr. Diggory sternly. "Do you know who I am? I'm a member of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures!"

The elf began to tremble as Diggory continued.

"The Dark Mark was conjured from this location a short while ago. And you were discovered moments later, right beneath it! An explanation, if you please!"

"I—I—I is not doing it, sir!" Winky gasped. "I is not knowing how, sir!"

"Honestly, Amos," said Dumbledore rather curtly, "the idea that a house elf could have cast the Dark Mark is preposterous. It is obvious that she merely found the wand where the one responsible dropped it."

"And by 'the one responsible,' we're obviously talking about Australian insurgents!" Yaxley declared. "We've established that it was Australians who stole the wand of the Boy-Who-Lived in the first place, after all!"

"You have established no such thing!" McAvity snapped. "I have already told you that the Australian sector was thoroughly searched. There were no signs of Mr. Potter's missing wand nor any signs of persons wearing fake Death Eater costumes! And honestly man! Insurgents?! That's paranoid nonsense!"

"Be that as it may, McAvity, I believe there is enough evidence to take you into custody immediately. Hit Wizards, arrest that man!"

The three startled Hit Wizards who'd accompanied Yaxley to this location looked at one another in surprise before pointing their wands at McAvity. In response, Buck, Delphini, and the Australian Aurors who'd come along drew their own wands. Violence seemed imminent when Dumbledore called out.

"Enough! All of you! Director Yaxley be reasonable! Aside from the fact that you have only the barest circumstantial evidence, I remind you that Director McAvity is here not just as an Australian but as an ICW official! He has diplomatic immunity!"

"Which does not extend to crimes of this magnitude, Dumbledore. At a minimum, McAvity is a material witness on the matter of exactly what led to this attack!"

"And I am willing to give a statement," McAvity said hotly. "But not under duress! And I will not submit myself to detainment by the British Ministry after three wizards attired as British Aurors attacked my staff and attempted to kidnap me!"

"Well, I'll tell you one thing," Yaxley replied. "You will not be leaving British soil until this situation is resolved to my satisfaction!"

McAvity stared at Yaxley balefully. Then, to everyone's surprise, he smiled. "Well then, my good man. How about a compromise! I love compromises! They make me feel like I learned something in Sunday School!"

And while the Purebloods present tried to figure out what 'Sunday School' was, McAvity turned to Dumbledore. "Headmaster, I regret I couldn't find the time to avail myself of your invitation to visit you at Hogwarts. Is the offer still open?"

Dumbledore looked at him in surprise. "Of course, Alexander. You are always welcome at Hogwarts."

"Well then!" McAvity said jovially. "That settles it! Supreme Mugwump, as Junior Mugwump of the sovereign state of the Magical Commonwealth of Australia, I hereby remand myself to your custody and claim asylum at Hogwarts until … well, until the British government pulls its collective head from its arse! You can put me up in one of the towers you're not using! Like Richard III and the two princes!"

"Albus…!" Crouch began warningly.

"Barty," Albus said with a sigh. "You know the international law that is applicable here. Hogwarts technically exists outside the government of Wizarding Britain and functions as a semi-autonomous region. As Supreme Mugwump and Headmaster, I am bound both by the ICW bylaws and the Hogwarts charter to provide sanctuary to Alexander until a diplomatic solution can be found."

"But you're not at Hogwarts now!" Amos exclaimed.

"True!" McAvity said. "But I'm also not under an anti-Apparition jinx!"

And then, before anyone could react, the Dark Lord McAvity turned on his heels and Apparated away, presumably to sanctuary at Hogwarts.

"Dammit, Albus!" Crouch roared.

"Barty, Corban, look at it this way. By allowing Alexander to stay at Hogwarts, I will be responsible for both his safety and his security. I will make sure he's available for any interviews, and I can do so without causing an international incident that will greatly damage our standing before the ICW."

Then, Dumbledore paused and looked around the ruins of the Quidditch World Cup. "Well, more of an international incident."

"Fine," said Yaxley in a gruff voice. "I'll hold you to that Dumbledore. But in the meantime, there's still the matter of Crouch's elf!"

"Eh?" Crouch looked at the man crossly. "What about my elf? We've established that Winky wasn't responsible for the Dark Mark!"

"True," Yaxley said with a smarmy expression. "But she was caught with a wand on her person! I believe the law is quite clear on that, is it not, Diggory?"

"Oh yes, Director Yaxley," Amos replied. "Quite clear. It doesn't matter whether she used young Potter's wand or not. She held it! That is a violation of the law for which there is only one acceptable punishment! Clothes!"

Jim gasped. "But that's not fair! Winky didn't do anything!"

"The law is the law, Mr. Potter," Amos said piously.

Crouch looked at the man with contempt. "And we all know that your only concern lies in making sure the law is obeyed, don't we, Amos. I'm sure it has nothing to do with your bitterness over my claiming the Directorship of the DoIMC which you were expecting to get for yourself!"

Amos blushed but did not rise to the bait. Beside him, Cedric looked away while wishing he could sink into the earth.

With a sigh, Crouch knelt down close to the elf who was weeping piteously. "I am sorry that I must do this, Winky. You have served me and my family faithfully for many years. But I have no choice. By taking that wand, even for an innocent purpose, you have violated the law. And as punishment, I must give you clothes."

At that, Winky began to cry even harder. Crouch looked up at Dumbledore.

"Albus, is it still Hogwarts policy to accept house elves who have been freed by their masters?"

"Of course, Barty. Winky will be welcome among the elves of Hogwarts."

"Good. Then seeing as how my tent is destroyed, I shall take Winky home for tonight. You may expect her at Hogwarts tomorrow."

He gently picked up the distraught elf and, after glaring at Yaxley and Diggory for a moment, Crouch Apparated away.

At that point, Jim Potter spoke up. "Um, excuse me? But does anyone know where any of the Weasleys got off to? I wanted to make sure they were okay."

In response, a somber Albus Dumbledore informed the boy of Charlie Weasley's serious injuries and that the whole family was at St. Mungo's. Lily agreed to take the horrified boy to the hospital to be with his friend, while James remained at the campsite on Yaxley's orders to help with cleanup. But he did take the opportunity for one quick side trip. After leaving Yaxley's sight, James ducked into a secluded alleyway between two damaged tents before Apparating into the arena. Upon arriving, he looked up to the top of the display pedestal.

The Goblet of Fire was exactly where he'd last seen it, still lit and apparently untouched. James cast a few spells to confirm that the wards around the Goblet were in perfect working order. Finding no gaps in the defenses, he shrugged and Apparated away.


The Car Park

After what seemed like an eternity, all of Harry's friends rendezvoused at Dan's SUV. Along the way, Archie found Neville still barricaded inside a magical hedge barrier which was quickly dispatched. Luckily for all concerned, the werewolf claw marks that Archie had taken were not to his wand arm, and he was able to heal Neville's broken legs after several tries. A bigger concern for Neville was the sight of Hermione, who Dan was carrying in his arms and who seemed to be in a state of shock. Soon after, they finally made their way to the SUV to find Harry, Theo, Amy, and Padfoot waiting for them.

With surprising professionalism and detachment, Dan went immediately to the emergency medical bag he kept in the back of the SUV for emergencies. After giving his daughter a firm hug, he set to work on Padfoot in an effort to remove the orichalcum bolt tip from the dog's shoulder so that the man could finally and safely resume his human form. Archie stood over him providing light with a Lumos.

"I would not have thought this a normal part of dentistry, Dan," Archie said cautiously.

"And it's not," Dan replied. "Luckily, I'm an oral surgeon as well. I just leave that bit out of the job description when talking to wizards. You lot barely know what dentistry is, after all."

"Touché," said Archie.

Neville was asleep in the back of the SUV. While his legs were mostly healed, it had taken repeated Brackium Emendos from Archie, and the spell incorporated a pain-relieving effect which got stronger the more times it was used. So once he made it back to the SUV, the boy was happy to lay down for a nap. Harry was also asleep in the back of the SUV, though not by choice. Upon learning that Harry had been struck by a Cruciatus from Tiberius Nott (and then hearing Harry say that he was "fine" despite a few obvious body tremors), Archie promptly shot the boy in the back with a Somnium until they could get him proper treatment. Amy stayed close to Dan and Archie, watching the impromptu veterinary surgery with fascination. Theo and Hermione sat on the ground with their backs against the other side of the vehicle.

Theo looked at the girl cautiously. "Are you okay?" he asked gently.

Hermione nodded slowly. "I just … I killed someone tonight," she said in a quiet voice.

He took a deep breath. "Me too."

The witch's head jerked around in surprise. "Oh?"

"Tiberius Nott. He was torturing Harry and was about to—I dunno—either kill them or kidnap them so he could kill them later. You?"

"It was a werewolf. He was about to kill my father."

Theo's eyes widened.

"Do you … feel bad about it?" he asked.

Hermione looked away. "I'm still not sure. A little? Honestly, right now, I mostly feel bad about the fact that I don't feel as bad as I think I should. Does that make sense?"

Theo blinked as he worked his way through that rather complex sentence. Then, he nodded. "Yeah, it makes total sense. I know exactly what you mean."

They were silent for a moment. Nearby, they could hear Neville snoring softly.

"If you don't mind telling," Theo asked, "how did you manage to kill a werewolf?"

"Sectumsempra. It's for … well … killing werewolves."

"Good choice then, I reckon."

"And if you don't mind me asking … how did you kill Lord Nott?"

Theo turned to look into his friend's eyes. "Believe it or not—and I'm still not sure if I believe it—I killed him with a tasteless joke about his wife giving oral pleasure to You-Know-Who."

Hermione's eyes widened as if she were more scandalized by the method of killing than the fact of it. Then, the witch and the wizard both started laughing at the absurdity of it all.


St. Mungo's

When Jim finally made it to St. Mungo's with Lily close behind, the first Weasley he saw was Fred who was just coming out of a men's restroom.

"Fred! Where's Ron?"

Surprised by the other boy's presence, Fred pointed down the hallway. "In the Emergency Surgery Room. He's been in there for a while now."

Jim's eyes widened in horror at the thought of his best mate being injured somehow after he'd impulsively run off to rescue someone else. Without another word, he ran down the hall with Fred and Lily calling after him. Then, he skidded to a stop next to a window into the ward. Ron was indeed in the Emergency Surgery Room. He just wasn't there as a patient. Instead, to Jim's surprise, he was performing Parselmouth surgery on a wounded man under the supervision of trained Healers. Jim could hear Ron's hissing through the glass.

"… The hell?" Jim said to no one in particular.


Assorted Headlines from the next morning's Daily Prophet …

Chaos at Quidditch World Cup!
Historic Irish Victory Over Bulgaria
Overshadowed By Unprecedented Violence!

Dark Mark? Or Dark Hoax!
Australian Muggleborns Attack QWC
Dressed as Death Eaters! Allied With Werewolves!

Bartemius Crouch Nearly Assassinated!
Was Rogue House Elf Involved?

Dark Lord McAvity Claims Sanctuary at Hogwarts!
Has Dumbledore Finally Gone Mad?

Unidentified Parselmouth Performs Medical
Miracles! Saves Dozens of QWC Victims!
Who Is The Parselmouth Prodigy?

Severed Head of Retired Hit Wizard Durwood
Gibbon Found Amongst the Wreckage!

Amos Diggory of DRCMC Denies Reports
Of Barghests Used During Attack!
Are Followers of Grindelwald Involved?

Lady Narcissa Nott Reports Lord Nott Ill With
Severe Spattergroit! Appoints Wife As Regent!


Somewhere in Britain beneath a Fidelius …

"Well, so far, at least," said Peter Pettigrew as he thumbed through the Prophet, "it looks like everything's gone perfectly. Don't you agree, old bean?"

"Hmm," replied Augustus Rookwood as he buttered a scone. "There was that bit where Tiberius Nott managed to get himself killed and eaten by one of his own Hellhounds."

Peter snorted. "You're right. Everything's gone better than perfect."

They both laughed.


End of Part 1: The Games of Summer

To be continued in

Harry Black and the Resurrection Game
Part 2: The Trials of Winter

Beginning September 1, 2021


Next: Three straight weeks of working on Strangers In Dallas. Then, I get back to POS and hopefully get the kids on the train at last.

UPDATE (6/23/21): It is with great regret that I must announce a delay in the continuation of this story. I have recently been accepted into a post-graduate program. While this is a great opportunity for me and one I'm very excited about, it will require me to wrap up all my current job-related responsibilities by the end of July before moving over 1000 miles away on very short notice. Under these circumstances (which all arose somewhat unexpectedly), I cannot realistically have the next chapter ready and up to snuff by July 1. Accordingly, I am bumping the next chapter back to September 1, and between now and then, I will reevaluate my update schedule once I see how classes are going. I apologize to all my long term followers, but I promise you, I AM NOT ABANDONING THIS STORY. In the meantime, small scenes ("chunks") will still go up on my Discord server as I complete them, and, in fact, one is going up today, so if you wish to stay involved with POS as it develops through this difficult period, I encourage you to join my server. Thank you all for your patience and support.

AN1: Check out the Sinister Man's web presence on the POS wiki, the POS TV Tropes page, and my Discord server (through which you can see advance previews of this story as it is begin written). Also, the Sinister Man would be profoundly grateful if you checked out my P*****n page and supported my original fiction. Patronage is not necessary to get the free POS previews via Discord.

AN2: What the Sinister Man is reading:

Forgotten, but not gone by jelena Russo (AO3). Hermione Granger, the Mudblood Who Lived, grows up impoverished in an orphanage until she's rescued by her Hogwarts letter … and is promptly sorted into Slytherin.

Do you still believe [in one another] by petroltogo. An intriguing take on the WBWL. Early in Year 3, Adrian Potter realizes that his twin, Harry, is the real BWL based on memories recovered from Dementor exposure. He decides to keep the knowledge to himself, not for selfish reasons, but because he loves his brother (despite him being a Slytherin) and genuinely wants to protect Harry from Voldemort and the Death Eaters.

AN3: Special thanks to my Discord editors: _Paryanoia, Absolutely Fine, AjithSen, Banshee, BlueWater5, Bob, CitoyenneClark, EN, Erritiguei1, HeidiWolf, justanotherrandomhuman, kean, Krisni, Kylemagne, LFGB, Mr. Cato, Nemo's Flower Song, ohana, PrettyPinkCupcake, ProgKingHughesker, Rubric of Ahriman, thebluesky, and Twice the Jo. Thanks, guys.

AN4: Vital Statistics: Reviews: 17,035. Followers: 17,869. Favorites: 16,131. Communities: 243. Discord followers: 4,450! Go Team POS!