Chapter One

Nagini and the Two Toms

It was a sunny day with blue skies and fluffy white clouds. It was the kind of day that Lord Voldemort liked, because it reminded him of the happier days of his childhood, and, even though he didn't like to think much about those otherwise dreary days being forced to stew in abject muggle filth, he nevertheless did, because even he knew the importance of remembering one's own past. It was a lesson he would not soon forget.

At the periphery of his senses, Lord Voldemort felt the stirrings of a breeze, the swish of a cloak, the passage of human flesh. Someone was coming, and he was glad for it. "Come in," he beckoned, sunshine spilling across his face as clouds flitted here and there, highlighting the stark whiteness of his face. His terrible white face and his red eyes.

"My Lord," said Wormtail, crossing the distance between them, a hunger in his beady little rat eyes. He prostrated himself deeply before his Lord and then stood, holding out his hands as if in supplication. Nestled there, between them, delicate and beautiful and rich with the energy of old, lay a cup. "As you requested, my Lord."

"Excellent, as always, Wormtail. You have proven yourself worthy yet again," Voldemort replied. "Lay it before me and go."

Nodding and silent as always, Wormtail complied, gently, reverently placing the infamous Huffelpuff cup before his Lord and then sweeping out of the room after one final bow.

It would not come as a surprise to many that Lord Voldemort was a cautious man. Some would even go so far as to say paranoid, though Lord Voldemort himself preferred to regard himself as simply being more aware than most others. He had been aware of his magic at the tender age of eight, and he had been aware of his lineage, of his extraordinary power, of his adversaries, of his surroundings. He saw things with great clarity. He was a realist.

It had not taken him long to piece together from Snape's and young Draco's scant reports that Dumbledore had uncovered the secret of his most prized ritual. Voldemort, slotting in the few coincidences, like Slughorn's return to Hogwarts, the mysterious absences, the ruination of Dumbledore's hand - he knew his horcruxes were no longer safe. At the very least, he had to go and check up on them. It had not taken him long to discover that indeed, he was now down three sevenths of his soul. The locket, the ring and diary. You knew it was only a matter of time that Dumbledore would uncover the nature of your first horcrux, he admonished himself. You should have pulled out more quickly. Not that such a thing had really been an option. Fetching the horcruxes while Dumbledore had still been alive would have been just about the dumbest thing he could have done. Dumbledore was nothing if not resourceful, and would have certainly clued into Voldemort's trail and possibly discovered the identity of all his horcruxes. And Voldemort would have been forced to keep the lot of them close to his chest, which would have been the equivalent of painting a giant bull's-eye over his head.

Three down, Voldemort thought, grimacing and glancing askance at his cup.

But now that Dumbledore was gone, Voldemort was free and clear to move with greater speed and forcefulness. The only thing that stood in his way was Harry Potter.

Harry fucking Potter.

A snot-nosed, arrogant little twerp with more lives than a bloody cat. But what were once insurmountable protections placed upon the boy were now dwindling. Strangely enough, the boy was a pawn and a king all rolled into one. All the games that Lord Voldemort had been playing for the last seven years all revolved around him, despite the fact that the boy could only be described as average in magical power, physical strength and intellectual cunning.

And still, Lord Voldemort experienced a queasy feeling every time he thought of facing the boy and killing him. If he had had any knowledge of muggle academics, he might have associated the feeling to the phenomenon known as conditioned taste aversion, a concept Hermione would have been all too happy to explain to anyone who would listen. But, alas, Voldemort continued in his musings, ignorant of this piece of trivia.

Still, after much pondering, Voldemort had come upon a simple, yet elegant solution that he realized would gain him two powerful new allies. Allies that whose loyalty would never be in question. Allies whose identities were basically non-existent in the wizarding world, who had no ties, no other interests, no other distractions. Allies whose magical prowess was unquestionable and whose cunning and magical knowledge were matched only by his own.

Lord Voldemort pointed his wand at the Huffelpuff cup and silently sent a stream of magic at it. Indigo light pulsed around the cup, flashing a myriad of colours, spanning the magical spectrum, until tendrils of smoke wafted off the body of the cup and swirled around one another to an unknown rhythm, beating and pulsing like a heart. Before long, they coalesced into a shape that grew more and more defined with each passing second.

And then, without any fanfare or unusual lights, stood Tom Marvolo Riddle, a dark twinkle in his dark eyes, his hair neatly cropped and pulled back, his lean body clothed in robes of midnight black. He looked curiously at Lord Voldemort for a moment before then turning around and giving his surroundings a curious glance. His gaze fell only briefly on the cup, but, as a true Slytherin, he showed no emotion whatsoever at the sight of it. Piecing together everything that was happening around him, Tom knelt before Lord Voldemort and murmured, "My Lord, how may I serve?"

Voldemort merely smiled at the boy before hissing to the room in general, "Nagini, Tom, step out of the darkness. Join your brother."

Two shapes materialized from the hidden corners of the room. From one side slithered a long snake with blood red eyes like Voldemort's himself, and from the other another young adult male, an identical twin of the first that knelt before the Dark Lord.

"Rise," said the Dark Lord to his offspring. "You do not need to bow before me."

"As you wish," said Tom, who now rose to his feet and eyed his counterparts.

"You encruxed a serpent?" Tom asked. "I did not know you could infest a living host."

Voldemort smiled. "You are a curious one, Tom. In answer to your question, it is something I learned to do much later, when I had cause to learn the fine art of possession. It was yet another modification to the ancient ritual of horcruxry."

Tom just nodded. "I believe that upon you I will confer the name Raven, in honour of your inquisitive nature. Raven, meet Griffin, your brother to your left, and Nagini, your brother to your right."

Tom, now known as Raven, gave a short nod to his soul brothers.

"Now, Nagini, transform," commanded Lord Voldemort.

In a flash, Nagini disappeared, and in her place stood yet another version of Tom, this one much older and sporting the red eyes that were characteristic of the Dark Lord.

Both Raven and Griffin were surprised at this.

"You have learned the art of the animagus?" Raven asked.

Lord Voldemort just smiled. "I would not sully myself with such a thing, young Raven. However, Nagini expressed an interest in the art, and so she has learned it. She is a reverse animagus."

Raven quirked an eyebrow. "Impressive."

Voldemort merely nodded.

"May I inquire as to the purpose for which you have summoned us?" asked Raven. "Surely you must have something special in mind."

Griffin's expression remained unfailingly stoic, which signalled to Raven that he had already been informed.

"Indeed, there is," said the Dark Lord. "There is a thorn in my side. He has caused me a great deal of trouble over the last several years. His name is Harry Potter."

"Potter," all three horcruxes hissed in unison, sneers plastered across their faces as though they were forced to recall something putrid.

Hmm, Voldemort mused. The boy has perhaps left a mark on the soul somehow, for them to have known his name. I shall have to look into it. Voldemort continued, "Yes, Potter. I want you to go forth and kill him. Him and all his friends. Do it in whatever way you see fit. I care not, so long as he is dispatched."

"Of course, my Lord," said the three horcruxes, again in unison.

"Excellent," Voldemort responded, bolstered by the vitriol they felt for the boy. "Go then, and do not return until your task is complete."

With that, the three shades of the Dark Lord vanished in a fit of silent apparations.

Soon, Potter, thought the Dark Lord, soon you will be no more.

Raven, Griffin and Nagini all stood under the long branches of an ancient elm, the sun still at its zenith, the sky still a fresh blue. They were standing on Privet Drive, on the lawn of number six, to be precise, each of them silently gazing upon the Dursley household, their expressions flitting intermittently from contemplative to frustrated to amused to irritated, all in a matter of seconds, as they studied the wards before them, they themselves cloaked under flawlessly cast disillusionment charms.

"What say you?" Raven hissed quietly.

Griffin just shrugged.

"I confess I do not understand them," Nagini admitted, his red eyes still fixated on the shimmering pulse of wards that blended in and out of space and time all around them, and concentrated around number four. "Wards are supposed to have boundaries. Lines, markings. Anchoring stones, warding bases. None of that exists here."

"Of course it exists here," replied Raven agitatedly. "Your mind is clouded by memories of your defeat. The key to these wards is in the blood. The muggle aunt, if I understand correctly."

The other two remained silent for a moment, before Griffin spoke. "I have seen her this morning. It will not do to attack her. The wards are reflexive. They give her protection as well."

""And the two pigs that live there as well," Raven acknowledged. "Albeit it is weaker in them. We could strike them down when they are away from this place. Perhaps at the muggle's work."

"To what end?" asked Griffin. "It will only alert the boy. It does not help that he cares little for these muggles. He will not mourn them."

"They may send him out of his home," Raven countered.

"His friends would no doubt be alerted. I can see an alarm ward nestled within the blood wards."

Raven stroked his chin thoughtfully. "And so his friends would come to his aid regardless. Hmm, interesting."

"We would do better to work our way outside in," suggested Griffin. "Strip him of his protections one by one, until he has no protections left at all."

"Can the boy apparate?"


Raven pursed his lips. "I do not like this. The Dark Lord would not have assigned this task to us if he were so easy to kill. We mustn't make a single mistake. If we strike at his protectors while he remains insulated under the protection of his mother's blood, then he will no doubt begin formulating plans, preparing countermeasures. He will have the measure of us."

"Only if we permit survivors. Which we will not."

"We should strike at the Weasleys first and foremost. And a guard should remain here at all times. If the boy is foolish enough to leave the protection of his home, then it would be a chance we simply would not want to miss."

"And one of us should execute a strike against the mudblood. His file indicates that she is an average which with a penchant for studiousness. Her diligence in her academics has saved the boy repeatedly."

"As much as tasting the flesh of a mudblood appeals to me," said Nagini, I believe I would serve best by remaining here. My serpent form affords me certain advantages in reconnaissance."

"Perfect," Raven said. "I will handle the Weasleys. I am next in line for seniority, and have recently studied pureblood wards. It may prove invaluable against as old a family as the Weasleys."

Griffin nodded. "Ergo, I will pay a visit to the mudblood."

Nothing more needed to be said it seemed, for Raven and Griffin soundlessly apparated away, while Nagini transformed back into her snake form, her red eyes glowing like hot coals as she gazed intently at the house in which her quarry resided.

Harry wasn't really having a good year. It would probably have been accurate to say that his year had been downright crappy, all things considered. He sucked at his studies, hit a fellow student with a dark curse, learned jack all in DADA, and got saddled with this whole horcrux burden, which he was fairly certain would kill him before he even got started. Not to mention the whole dead mentor thing, which left him feeling distinctly vulnerable, a feeling he didn't like and which only served to remind him just how ill-equipped he was when it came to dealing with Voldemort and his Death Eaters.

Ah well, he thought morosely as he roughly shoved his trunk into the corner of his bedroom and flopped down on his bed. At least Ron and Hermione plan to die with me. That morbid thought tended to evoke both feelings of comfort and discomfiture, which fused together to form a persistent mania that he couldn't even begin to puzzle out. At the very least, Harry's apparent self-destructive behaviour had the effect of unsettling his relatives, which he took more than a small amount of pleasure in. Dursley baiting was something he had come to distinctly enjoy during his time at Privet Drive, even if he didn't experience true malice towards his so-called guardians. Pah, he thought irritably, old familiar feelings of despair and whininess threatening to overtake him. The only thing they've ever guarded me against is having a bloody childhood. Fuckers.

Currently, it was the fifteenth of June, which meant he had exactly forty-six days in which to figure out how not to get murdered.

You could always live under your invisibility cloak, he thought. A good sticking charm and you'd be free to wander about endlessly through the muggle world, pick pocketing and thieving from unsuspecting muggles. Fuck, you'd probably never need to use your wand again.

Somehow, that idea, as tantalizing as it sounded in the immediate, just didn't strike him as being a viable solution to his predicament.

Ooh, I've got it, he thought, snapping his fingers in the silent air. I'll hijack a nuclear bomb and owl it to Lord Voldemort. Harry let himself have a moment to chuckle at the absurd image of a mushroom cloud rising over the Riddle home.

However, just as quickly as that image came, so too did it leave, and in its place remained an emptiness. Suddenly restless, Harry jumped to his feet and made his way to a small mirror on his desk. He sat down at the second-hand, rickety chair that wobbled ever so slightly, and stared at himself for a long time, almost as if to convince himself that he wasn't a figment of his own imagination. "What are you going to do with yourself?" he asked aloud, his voice sounding unnatural in the quietude of his bedroom. He traced the outline of his scar on the surface of the mirror, with the same kind of reverence that Lucius Malfoy had had back in his second year at Flourish and Blotts. Only, now, it wasn't reverence so much as a mélange of emotions that he could only describe as a burgeoning sense of loss. He wished he could cry, but that ability seemed to have been stripped from him over the years.

"I have no idea how to find a horcrux," he confessed to his mirror image. Harry paused to purse his lips in contemplation before continuing. "I've no clue even how to begin figuring out where the locations are, or what the mysterious object is. I've no clue how to figure out where secret doors are, and about magical traps, or to figure out what potions do just by looking at them." In some part of his mind, he knew that it was probably the dumbest thing in the world to verbalize his doubts and fears in what may or may not have been a secure location, and also to admit aloud all his knowledge on a subject. But now that he had started, he found it impossible to arrest the torrent of his mind. "That's not even including figuring out how to duel. God, I can't even take on Snape when his back's turned to me. Sure, I could probably duel any Hogwarts student to a stand still, and probably a few of the inner circle members. I might even get lucky and hit Bellatrix and take her down in a one-on-one fight, but..." Harry shook himself of his own thoughts. It occurred to him at that moment the acute difference between a leader and a follower; between the things that made Albus Dumbledore great the things that made the rest of them ordinary. Leaders don't have the luxury of excuses. "And I don't really have a choice in the matter," Harry added, more to himself than to his makeshift padre. "But maybe that's okay. Maybe I don't need to have had a choice, because this would have been my choice anyway. If it's one Gryffindor trait I'm proud of, it's that I'm going to die on my feet, fighting Voldemort, his Death Eaters, Scrimgeour, God, even. Who gives a fuck. I'll die like Sirius, and I'm cool with that."

Harry licked his lips with the sudden anticipation he felt; that sudden rush of adrenalin in which his mind began percolating, putting pieces together, forming plans, preparing for war. Yeah, he thought, sitting back and staring out his window towards infinity. Failure is not an option.

Raven stood atop a hill overlooking the ancestral Weasley home, known to many as the Burrow. From his vantage point, he could see into the Weasley's rather expansive backyard, where some of the children were playing a game of Quidditch. From what he could tell, several family members had returned to help with the preparations for the wedding. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew that it was downright stupid to walk into a home with seven competent witches and wizards afoot. Still, he was Raven, and that meant a thing or two.

Raven cancelled the ocular enhancement charm and contemplated the network of wards that surrounded the Burrow. Unlike the ones guarding the Potter brat, these were pretty standard fare. He had learned that the eldest son - the one with the scarred face, was a curse breaker, and suspected that he had personally overseen the construction of the wards.

Amateurs, Raven thought smugly. And, better yet, muggle-loving amateurs.

If the wards had been designed to eviscerate intrepid muggles, Raven's task would have been slightly more difficult. However, as it were, he was fairly certain he could slip through the wards unscathed and without alerting anyone to his arrival, all the while keeping the wards intact. At least he would have the element of surprise, though it meant he would be unable to cast the unforgiveables due to an anti-dark magic ward. He reckoned the imperius and the killing curses surely would have made his job easier, but he was also excellent at transfiguration and charms and had a good knowledge of defense spells that could be applied in violent ways. And so, with that, he set off to the front yard of the Burrow and began his work.

The first thing he did was put a nearby muggle under the imperius.

"Tell me your name," Raven ask conversationally as he stripped off his clothes. "Don't move," he commanded as he began sapping some of the twenty year old muggle woman's blood.

"My name is Ellyn, Ellyn Sanders," she said in a serene tone.

Gotta work on that imperius curse, he thought absently. She doesn't have quite the right tone in her speech.

"That's a nice name," Raven commented, as he began rubbing the pint of blood all over his body, all the while checking to make sure his Notice-Me-Not field was functioning properly.

"I'll be Mrs. Ellyn Anderson soon," she went on, and Raven guessed she was a natural talker. "I'm going to be married in six days."

"Oh, that's nice. And will you be planning to spawn muggle filth?" he asked, silently commanding her to wait two minutes before making it her top priority, above all else, to enter the Weasley' premises and knock on the front door. Even if it kills you, he commanded.

Even if it kills me, she agreed silently.

Good. Now, wait two minutes while I transfigure myself.

Raven shook himself of the effects of the imperius. It was always hard forcing a person to override their own self-preservation instincts. Ah, well, this one was pliable enough. He slipped his wand into the muggle's back pocket before wandlessly transfiguring himself into a flatworm. He then proceeded to crawl up Ellyn's body and burrow a hole into her torso, where he lay, his tapeworm body coated over in her blood and now nestled inside her flesh. The wards, he expected, would flash over him without registering his magical aura, as it was dampened by the non-magical presence in which he had ensconced himself.

He smiled evilly.

Ellyn, after the two minutes passed, proceeded to march with as much forcefulness as she could manage to the Burrow. When she got to the foot of the driveway, she felt the anti-muggle wards pressing down on her, telling her she was supposed to go home and urinate, or possibly do the laundry. As she pressed inwards, her imperatives grating against the wards, she felt the urge to go home and rub peanut butter all over herself and dance around in her grandmother's panties. Despite this, she pressed onward until, like a rubber band snapping, she made it to the front door whereupon the feeling disappeared. Instinctively, Ellyn sighed with relief as her imperatives once again took hold in her mind and commanded her to knock on the door.

She did so, and, after no response, she banged harder and harder until, finally, a young woman no older than eighteen and with vibrant red hair and freckles to match opened the door and stared quizzically at the woman.

Ginny had been having a pretty good year, all things considered. Sure, Voldemort was running around terrorizing people like some sort of demonic bat in the middle of the night, and sure Dumbledore was dead and Harry had broken up with her. But still, on the bright side, she was thin and still curvaceous enough to be considered pretty by her male peers, and she had good marks in school. Moreover, she'd at least bagged the Boy-Who-Lived for a little while, and that would certainly score her popularity points come next year. Especially since he was back in favour with the Ministry and the public. It would not have done any good to be his boyfriend in fifth year, and how Cho had managed even a little bit surprised Ginny, since she figured Cho was even more airheaded than she herself. And hey, look on the bright side, she thought, now you don't have to worry about being a bloody target while Harry goes off and gets himself killed facing You-Know-Who. After all, Ginny had seen Harry duel at the DOM, and, as good a dueller as he was, he was still nothing special. Certainly he wasn't no You-Know-Who, and, if she were going to bet money on outcomes, well, let's just say she'd pack up and leave for the hills before she bet on Harry. And if he did win, well, it would most likely come at the expense of someone else sacrificing themselves just like his parents had done, and she was certainly thankful that the good witches and wizards of the world that were prepared to do that, and in the line of fire, well, none of them were her, were they?

"Oy, Gin, someone's at the door," called Bill from the nearest hoop. "Get it, would ya?"

"Sure!" she called back, flying her broom to the ground and dismounting. Brushing the sweat from her forehead and pushing her bangs behind her ears, she trudged past a gaggle of garden gnomes and into the kitchen, where she went past her bustling mother and soon-to-be sister-in-law. When she got to the front hall, she could hear an incessant banging that she wondered how her mother had managed to miss. It seemed to be getting louder, as though the person on the other side were growing more and more frantic. With this in mind, Ginny summoned her wand from her upstairs bedroom, effectively performing wandless magic that would have been most enviable to other witches and wizards.

Ginny opened the door and found to her surprise that the person knocking appeared to be a perfect stranger. Instinctively, she glanced past the woman to see who else might be lurking about, but there was nobody. Well, she got past the wards, Ginny thought. She can't be that dangerous.

"Hello? Can I help you?" she asked uncertainly, taking in the woman's muggle attire. But how'd she get past the anti-muggle wards?

The woman however did not respond, instead choosing to open and close her mouth like a fish out of water, as though she could either not speak, or she simply found she had nothing to say. It was, of course the latter.

"Er, we don't want any," Ginny said, as though talking to a pesky salesperson.

And that's when it happened.

At first, Ginny's mind wasn't able to process the visual imagery that it was receiving through the transduction process courtesy of her retinas. The woman seemed to convulse, like she were choking on something. Her eyes widened fractionally before drool and blood began to make its way down her mouth. And after that, Ginny thought she saw the woman's abdomen start to open up as a tear formed vertically from her chest plate to her pelvis. And then, once the initial spurt of gastrointestinal juices and blood and whatever else splashed across the entryway of the Weasley's front door, thereinafter, not two seconds having past, a head began to emerge.

It was Ginny's turn to look like a goldfish. She merely stood gaping at the sight of a young man, naked and lean and bloody crawling out of a muggle woman's body, grinning madly with wet blood smeared across his face.

And, through Ginny's haze of shock one thing registered true and clear. She knew those eyes.

It was perhaps that fact alone that saved her life that day. Though she had never faced the diary form of Tom Marvolo Riddle personally, she had, during her time, been left with remnants of his own thoughts, and a workable picture of how he saw himself, which was left imprinted in her mind during those dark days of possession. Amongst it all, she had spent many sleepless nights alone contemplating those fathomless black eyes; that serpentine smile.

Raising her wand, which was still pretty shaky, she said, "Stupefy."

A red beam shot out of her wand and hit Raven square across his naked, hairless, bloody chest. Even before the spell impacted, Ginny knew from his unfailing grin that the spell wouldn't succeed. Why it wouldn't was another mystery, and one she hardly had time to contemplate.

However, before she could manage to set off the alarms, Raven had drawn his wand from Ellyn's back pocket, after which he finally let her collapse to the ground to die with whatever dignity she had left.

Silently and casually he sent Ginny flying fifteen feet down the hall and through the far door, where she landed in a heap in the kitchen. blearily she looked up and saw her mother's concerned expression as she knelt down beside her. "Ginny?" she asked.

Ginny tried to shake her head to no avail. "No," she squeaked. "No, not me. Look there-" Ginny inwardly cursed herself for panicking as she tried to explain what was happening to her mother. Finally, she settled on whispering. "Attack."

This, her mother understood very well. She gave her daughter one hard look before turning to the Weasley clock, where the last hand was finally turning to mortal peril. Only Arthur's hand remained elsewhere, having chosen to linger on "oblivious".

"My God," Mrs. Weasley said, her gaze fixed on the image of the clock for just a moment longer, her mind refusing to believe what was going on around her. Her deepest fears were being realized.

And then, she saw him, standing in the doorway, staring at her with those penetrating dark eyes, and, finally, she looked at the stove, where her wand was sitting idly by in a pot of chicken noodle soup.

"Molly, isn't it?" Raven asked conversationally as he moved into the kitchen.

Mrs. Weasley slowly got to her feet, her mind racing. Let him cast one spell and then run for it, she told herself. Whoever this is, he's young. He can't be that experienced.

Even as she thought these things, she saw a smile creep across his face. "Not experienced, am I?" he taunted, twirling his wand. "Perhaps I will show you what this youth can do, hmm?"

"Who are you?" she asked, taking a step back. Is he reading my mind? she wondered, her gaze locking with his.

"You don't remember me, Molly?" Raven asked, adopting a hurt expression. "Why, we went to school together."

"School together?" she asked blankly, her mind searching for someone in her year.

"No, no," Raven said, shaking his head. "Not the same year. I was head boy when you were in second year. Don't you remember?"

"Tom?" she asked, still with that blank expression. "but you can't be him. You're so young."

Raven just smiled. "Would you really expect an immortal being to age, Molly. Would you expect the Dark Lord to grow old and feeble, as you have done? Do you think so little of Lord Voldemort?"

It took about thirty seconds for Raven's words to enter Molly's brain and to shape itself into a coherent meaning. Lord Voldemort.

Molly stared at Raven for a good long moment as she digested this fact. "Tom," she said finally in an unusually calm tone.

"Yes, Molly?"

Like all the other Weasleys in existence, Molly had been sorted into Gryffindor, and for a good reason. She was not afraid for her own life, but for those of her children. All she could really say to the being of doom that stood before her was: "Die, would you?"

Raven's smile faltered. Just then, he glanced down at Ginny's form, which had resolved itself into a girl sitting up, her wand now pointing directly at Raven's chest. She said just one word. "Reducto."

Raven's expression widened into disbelief as the magic of Ginny's spell hit him dead center, sending him flying back out of the kitchen.

Molly did not waste any time lunging for her wand. Even with soup still dripping from its end, she made a sharp jabbing motion, activating the alarms. Suddenly klaxons began going off.

"Bitches," Raven swore as he returned to the kitchen.

Molly whirled around just as her sons were coming into the kitchen and just managed to dodge a spell that went by her. When she gained her equilibrium and stared into Raven's face, she was disconcerted to see the smile he was sporting.

"That was a summoning charm, my dear little Molly," he said. "Can you guess what I have summoned?"

"Don't play games with me," she said fiercely, sending a stream of red at Raven, who raised a translucent blue shield that sent her stunner to the left in the direction of her four sons, Bill, Fred, George and Ron. They scattered, now drawing their wands to attack the stranger that had entered their kitchen.

Molly, for some inexplicable reason, felt her energy leaving her. She looked down and saw for the first time, that a narrow blade was sticking out of her chest. That's my carving knife, she thought vaguely as blood stained her white robes. Mother always told me not to wear white in the kitchen. Her rambling thoughts disappeared as the present situation reasserted itself. They do not know that it is Him. Protect your children. None of her kids seemed to have noticed that she was bleeding to death right before their very eyes. Not that she was surprised given the heavy barrage of spellfire that was being sent back and forth between the five combatants on one side and the apparition of Lord Voldemort on the other. He truly is an impressive fighter, Molly thought, staring at him as he maintained a wandless shield while firing off spells so powerful that each one lingered with the acrid scent of ozone in the air.

Molly fired an incendiary hex his way, but he simply batted it aside with a flick of his wand and returned to deflecting the many curses that were being discharged in his direction. As strong as he was, he was gaining ground only marginally. In a fit of superior wand prowess, Raven managed to raise a second shield with his wand which he used to reflect no less than three stunners back at his opponents, while simultaneously sending an evisceration curse that trailed behind. Worse yet, the three stunners formed a pincer around her youngest son and she was certain that Ron would not survive the strength of the combined curses. Raven had already turned his attention back to the other four to occupy them so they couldn't aid their brother.

There was really only one thing to do, as far as Molly Weasley was concerned. In a snap decision, she threw herself in front of the evisceration curse, taking the brunt of it, which slashed her already bleeding body to ribbons.

Her final thought before she died was: This worked for Lily Potter, so it bloody well work for me.

"MOM!" the five remaining family members cried out in unison. Time seemed to stop.

"Oh, did I do that?" Raven asked in the ensuing silence. "You have my sympathies."

Ron, Ginny, Fred, George and Bill all stared dumbfounded at their mother's body, which now lay still and emitting copious amounts of coagulating blood on their linoleum flooring. In turn, as if to confirm what they were seeing, they all turned to face the family clock, where Molly's hand was winking out of existence. And from there, they turned their attention back to Raven.

"You're going to pay for this," Bill finally said. "I don't know who you are, but you're going to pay. Dearly."

Raven just smirked at them. "Oh, am I? Do you think that your threats mean anything to Lord Voldemort?"

It was a testament to their grief and anger that not a single one of them flinched at his name. Bill just responded by saying, "We'll give you a reason to take us seriously. Mark my words."

"You're so not Lord Voldemort," Ron spat. "He's older and's got red eyes."

Raven's smile just broadened.

"You're nothing but a pathetic wanker here to cause trouble," Ron went on. He then readied his wand for another assault.

"Ron," Ginny said, her voice quiet but still cutting through the still air of the Weasley kitchen. "Ron, it's him."

Normally, Ron would have dismissed such an assertion from his younger sister, but there was a unique kind of certainty in her voice that made him pause. He glanced her way, his body still poised to duel, his hand still tightly gripping his wand. Her expression was so intense, that Ron couldn't help but be swayed, even though Ron was sure that the thing in front of them couldn't have been Lord Voldemort. Finally, he gave a tight nod of assent.

"Leave," Bill commanded, his grip on his wand relaxed, even though his body was coiled with anticipation.

"And why would I do such a thing?" Raven inquired, curious as to Bill's response.

"We've you outnumbered."

Raven just smirked an infuriating, Slytherin sort of smirk. "I assure you I'm terrified."

"What do you want, then?" Bill asked.

"I'm here to deliver a message," raven said, twirling his wand momentarily as he composed his next words.

Already Bill was asking, "Well, tell us the message then."

"Ah, but you see, Mr. Weasley, the message is not for you." Raven gestured his free hand to the now dead matriarch.

"Who is it for?" Ginny asked, even though half of them knew the answer.

"Potter, of course. Always Potter."

"We'll be sure to relay it to him," Ron pressed. "Now what is it?"

"Oh, I have no doubt you will," Raven countered evenly. "The message is quite simple. Don't come here."

"What kind of a message is that?" George asked. "What's it matter if he comes here?"

"You can't get him because of the wards," Ron said.

"This isn't the kind of message that is told in a letter," Raven said, shaking his head. "You don't understand. Potter will only understand this message if it comes in blood." Raven cast a glance at Molly's corpse. "Hers, as rich as it is, will not suffice. No, I need the boy's blood. Ron's."

"Hell, no," the others cried out, all of them rallying around their youngest brother. "Then, Bill said, "Not him. Take me, instead. I will duel you. Just let him go."

Raven shook his head. "No, no, no. You're not listening. It has to be Ron. Surely you see that. All of you, or Ron. That is the deal."

"I'm sorry," Bill replied. "Surely you understand we can't simply leave him here."

"It's fine, bill," Ron said, his voice strained as he came to grips with his fate. "It's okay."

"No, it's not!" Bill said, whirling to face Ron. "I'm the eldest here, and I at least have the best chance of surviving. It'll be me or nothing."

A pained expression crossed Ron's face before he steeled himself. "No, Bill. You don't have a chance. I'm sorry. None of us do. It's... I think I get what he is." Ron glanced briefly at his sister. "Yeah, I've a pretty good idea, I reckon."

"Ron," Bill breathed, his scarred face twisting into a grimace. "You can't ask me to leave you here to die."

Ron seemed to have grown accustomed to his fate, because he said in a voice that was more confident. "It's okay, Bill. If I die here, well, it's my own fault really. It's not like I didn't know this day was coming. I should have been more prepared. We don't have the luxury of excuses anymore. The rest of them need you. They need you more than they need me. Keep dad and the twins and Gin and Charlie - keep them all safe."

"Ron, you're nutters if you think we're going to just leave you here," Fred and George added.

"Stay if you like then, but think of what dad'll say when he finds out he's down three sons instead of just one."

"That's a low fucking blow, mate," George pointed out.

Ron just shrugged. "It's true. There's a war going on, you know. We sometimes have to think like Slytherins."

"I love you," Ginny said, now openly crying.

"I love you, too."

Bill just gave Ron a tight nod before turning back to Raven. "When this is over, I'll hunt you down. Mark my words."

"We all will," said Ginny, giving Raven a piercing gaze. "I haven't forgotten you."

Fred and George remained silent, instead just leading the procession of Weasleys out the door.

"So, it's just you and me, then," Ron said. He took a step away from the wall where he had been standing previously in order to afford himself greater maneuverability.

"It appears so."



Outside, the four remaining Weasleys watched the Burrow as the light of spellfire danced and flickered across the various kitchen windows. At one point, they all winced as the back door was blown apart with a powerful reductor curse.

"How could we let him alone in there," George asked to no one in particular. No one wanted to answer a question like that, because the answer was too painful. While having five people against one was normally a great thing, in the cramped quarters of the Weasley kitchen, it meant they were lambs to the slaughter. Even Ginny could tell that trying to escape under a constant barrage of spells would have been impossible. Raven moved with unnatural speed, and, for some reason, was immune to a wide range of curses. Not to mention he could read their minds, which put them at a major disadvantage.

Bill turned to Fred and said, "Take Ginny to headquarters. Apparate there. George, find dad. Tell him what's happened. And then find Charlie. I'm going to stay behind and take down the anti-apparition ward." Bill immediately turned to begin dismantling the wards that were supposed to keep them alive and which now trapped his youngest brother in their home with the Dark Lord.

The other three did as they were told, disappearing with the customary loud cracks that normally accompanied apparation travel.

Hermione stared at the handsome young man that stood before her on her front step. "Yes, can I help you?" she inquired, a bit nervously. Whoever this fellow was, he had a very nice smile and lean shoulders. Hermione found herself tucking a strand of lose hair behind her ear.

"I confess I am a bit lost," said the young man.

"Oh, okay. Would you like to use our telephone?" Hermione offered.

"Why, yes, if it's not too much trouble."

"Of course not," Hermione said, smiling. Inwardly she scolded herself. Tramp, you're supposed to be with Ron. But then another voice popped up and responded in a seductively sweet voice, Nothing wrong with looking, is there, sugar? It don't matter where you get your appetite, so long as you eat at home, if you catch my drift.

Hermione felt herself turning to mush as he smiled warmly at her. "You're so very kind, miss. And pretty, too."

"It's Hermione," she said, blushing. "Thank you. you're very handsome." As if realizing she had just put her heart on her sleeve, she blushed even more furiously.

"Well, Hermione, thank you," he said once more, mercifully ignoring her embarrassment.

"Right this way, mister-," Hermione said, leading the man into her front hall and then into the living room. She left the sentence hanging, expecting him to finish it, but he did not.

Instead he just said, "My friends call me Griffin." This statement, to Griffin's surprise, did not have the intended effect, and he inwardly cursed himself for the slip-up. He had not expected her to notice such a thing, or to be wary of a name that had fundamentally magical roots, though he should have known better.

To Hermione's credit, she displayed no outward expression that gave away her thoughts. Instead, she calmly asked, "Oh? That's an interesting name."

"Indeed, it is," Griffin replied, drawing his wand in one smooth motion and saying in a clear voice, "Avada kedavra."

Hermione fluidly evaded the jet of green light that sizzled past her skin and responded by silently summoning two Bic pens that plunged into Griffin's wand arm. He grunted in surprise and anger as he looked down at the innocuous writing utensils that were now bleeding ink into his body.

"Bloody hell," he muttered, staring down at the two pens. "Nice spellwork for a mudblood."

Hermione just smiled insincerely. She then cast a stunner that Griffin ignored. It impacted harmlessly against his body.

"Should've known," she said, shrugging. "Horcruxes must have some benefit to their otherwise pathetic existence." Hermione then began rattling off spell after spell, sometimes transfiguring what would normally be innocuous things into razor sharp, deadly objects, and sometimes just aiming for a direct hit.

Meanwhile, Griffin dispelled the two pens and raised a wandless shield while discharging a myriad of spells peppered with the occasional unforgiveable.



The television next to Hermione exploded in a shower of sparks, while the desk next to Griffin exploded in a shower of wood fragments. A splinter pierced his already damaged arm, but he did not notice. Griffin took a moment to evade a curse while casting a severing charm at the above chandelier. The modest lighting fixture came crashing down over top of Hermione's head, but was immediately banished in Griffin's direction and chased by a body bind and a transfiguration hex. Griffin raised a wandless shield for the spells and guided the chandelier-turned-projectile harmlessly to one side with his wand.

Both of them paused for a moment to stare intently at one another, both of them attempting to ascertain some point of weakness.

"I underestimated you," Griffin finally said. "What you lack in raw magical strength you make up for in experience and sheer breadth of knowledge."

Hermione just nodded tightly. "You and I both know there's no anti-apparation ward over this house. My apparation skills are superlative." As if to prove her words, she disappeared silently and reappeared behind Griffin, a spell already having been fired in his direction. Griffin, however, was hardly a slouch, and, as if to prove that he were just as capable as a mudblood, apparated out of the way of the curse and reappeared with a spell already discharged in Hermione's direction.

Hermione, in response, raised a shield which she tweaked to deflect the bone breaking hex back at Griffin, which she then followed with another body bind, only to apparate immediately after and begin firing off another pair of curses. Griffin wove a conical shield around his body that shimmered as each spell impacted against it. He seemed to not be interested in playing a game of apparation tag, for he stood stock still and simply waited for Hermione to stay put in one location.

"That's quite the shield," Hermione observed, her wand still poised to attack, sunlight from the floor-to-ceiling windows to her right making the perspiration on her face stand out. She conjured an elastic band and tied her hair back in a ponytail to keep it out of the way. "Must take a lot of energy to maintain."

Griffin shrugged and let the shield dissolve. "I've got power in spades."

She smiled. "It appears you do. Funny though. You still can't break me."

Griffin tilted his head in acknowledgement. "True, true. You have my respect, Miss Granger."

"So what do we do now?" she asked, eyeing him shrewdly. She could tell a new plan was forming in his mind.

"I could take you to lunch," he offered.

Hermione was, to say the least, surprised by that offer. Her first thought was, Yeah, right. How stupid do you think I am? But, after a moment's contemplation and staring into Griffin's dark eyes, Hermione found herself seriously considering the offer. She supposed she wasn't terribly concerned about being stabbed in the back, so to speak, because she knew of a myriad of mostly foolproof binding contracts that she could use to ensure fidelity between them. Of course, she wasn't entirely sure that they would work on a horcrux specifically, because the rules of magic didn't quite apply to them in the same way - or, at least, that's what the books she requisitioned from Knockturn Alley had said on the subject. Still, she wasn't the smartest witch in Hogwarts for nothing, and expected that she could tweak the spellwork to account for any of the eccentricities intrinsic to such an entity. And think of what you could learn. Jesus H., this is the Dark Lord. He's a walking encyclopedia of knowledge and theory. It's like hanging out with Dumbledore, only Griffin's way hotter and more my age. Well, sort of my age, minus the whole coming from the fifties thing.

"Sure," she said, an unusually dark twinkle in her eyes. "There's a lovely little muggle place down the street. Do you like vegetarian?"

Griffin shrugged. "It's not the food that interests me, Hermione."

"Excellent," she said, clapping her hands together. "Let me just draw up the paperwork, and we can be off!" Hermione proceeded to flounce away to secure parchment and a quill, after which she would layer the document with every lethal jinx and curse she could imagine. It would be the first time she ever used the killing curse in connection with anything, though, sadly, it would not be the last.