Disclaimer :: All things Harry Potter belong to JK Rowling. This fanfiction is a non-profit thing written for enjoyment of myself and my readers.

Breach of Contract: Twelve Signs.

Written by Matt Silver

Pre-Story Note: The backstory for this story is an alternate take on the war after Snape killed Dumbledore. It was darker and grittier and there were no Deathly Hallows to be seen (though Harry was a Horcrux and still killed Voldemort somehow. It's not important to this story). Just roll with it - the relevant background bits are revealed over the course of the story.


Chapter One: Eight.


November 7th, 2001: The Eighth

"I don't get it. It's just a dead Muggle."

"A very astute observation, Auror Dover. Potter, do you care to add to your partner's assessment?"

Blood. I'm seeing a cool lake in a dry desert, though the logical part of me sees the small pool on the cold warehouse floor. The crimson liquid stains the ground, it stains the dead Muggle and it's staining the bottom of Dover's left boot as he carelessly traipses all over the crime scene. My fellow Aurors and DMLE Enforcers are a lot more careful around the blood and the body, taking photographs and jotting down notes. But all I can see is the blood.

I don't mean to wax poetic on it, but the unhealthy fascination with an essential bodily fluid is a very substantial indication that it's close to contract renewal. A contract paid in blood and tied to my own - seems fitting that one of the signs of an approaching renewal involves blood, or anything crimson red and liquid-y. A few renewals ago I was reminded by the tomato sauce on my shepherd's pie. Tasty and helpful.

"Harry?" Auror Mackenzie Dover, having finished stepping in our victim's blood, tapped me on the shoulder. "Are you here with us?"

"I'm fine," I said automatically. "Just tired." Which was true. The post-Voldemort workload in the Ministry of Magic's Department of Magical Law Enforcement may've ended years back, but there was always a dozen law-breaking wizards behind every dustbin, and we were usually short-staffed to boot.

I cleared my throat and shook the cold off my skin. I hadn't noticed the autumn chill London carried this time of year, as I was rather too busy staring at the blood. All red and-

I cleared my throat again and pointedly ignored the blood.

"Is this the handiwork of Scotland Yard's newest serial murderer?" I asked, addressing my immediate superior on the scene, Terry Boot. Terry was one of a few wizards who had jumped straight into a post-Voldemort Auror Office that was my age, and he and I were the only ones to stick around when things went from exciting Death Eater duels to paperwork and tedium.

"Scotland Yard's what?" Dover chortled. "Captain?"

Boot nodded to me and narrowed his sole eye at Dover. The black eyepatch covering his other eye barely crinkled, but the one-eye Boot Glare O' Doom was still rather intimidating. "Have you not been reading the Muggle newspapers as instructed, Auror Dover?"

"I've been busy," Dover said flippantly.

Boot sighed a long-suffering sigh, and I resisted in joining him. "Scotland Yard have identified a string of murders from Fulham to Camden as all being the work of whom The Times are calling 'The Sorcerer'. All seven previous victims were stabbed in the upper chest area. It is unknown where they were murdered, but each of the bodies were moved to several abandoned areas similar to this warehouse."

I picked up Boot's explanation before Dover could open his mouth. "They've dubbed him 'The Sorcerer' because there is no possible Muggle way that the bodies could've appeared where they did, given that the surrounding areas were completely untouched, and had been for a noticeable time."

Boot consulted his notes, ever-present in his spindly fingers. "The bodies were found with a small black button attached somewhere on their person. The Muggles thought it to be an innocuous calling card. We know them better as Portkeys."

"Some wizard killing Muggles and Portkeying their bodies away from the actual crime scene?" Dover surmised. "Okay... So why did you owl us? And you said there were seven victims?"

"This is indeed the eighth," Boot said with a sharp nod and a gesture to the corpse. I started to approach the dead man, ignoring the blood's 'come hither' aspect it was projecting to my magically muddled mind.

"So why didn't those Muggle twats ask for our help earlier? And again, why drag us out here?"

"Who was he?" I spoke up, kneeling down to examine the corpse more closely. Yep, still a corpse with a vicious stab wound in the chest, as if someone had punched a large hole in him. He was starting to smell too, an unpleasant odour mixing in with the cold blistering my nostrils. Ignoring that, there was something familiar about the dead man on the ground.

"I'm sorry?" Dover asked, stopping his tirade about Muggle 'please-men' and their general incompetence.

"I'm asking who he is. Was," I repeated clearly. I knew Dover had a blank look on his face, even without turning, so I elaborated. "Scotland Yard keeps a constant dialogue with the Auror Office. They occasionally find cases that seem to be a bit beyond them and their liaisons pawn them off on us. That's normal. This appears to be the latest in a string of mysterious murders, and I have no doubt our Muggle friends would've tried to get us to come in and work on it beforehand, maybe three bodies ago. But we've been busy lately. Still are, too. So, I'm wondering who this man is and what importance he has for Robards to pay enough attention and drag us out here this morning. Captain?"

Before Boot could answer, Dover snorted. "Importance? He's a Muggle."

"He's also the brother-in-law of the head of the Department of Sports and Games, Jason Cole," Boot said stonily. "As soon as Mr Robert Goren here was identified and his name and photograph sent to us an hour ago, no doubt Head Auror Robards had a moment of recognition."

I nodded in agreement. Robards, Boot, Tonks and myself were all present at the wedding of Jason Cole and his Muggle bride Sylvia Goren just last year. I distinctly remembered having to erase Robert's memory after he got a little too fresh with a hex-happy Tonks, thereby breaking the Muggle-only spirit that the wedding was supposed to carry. To this day, I still hadn't figured out where Tonks had hid her wand while wearing that dress.

I stood up and took a step back from the body of Robert Goren. "Okay, so we have the Muggle relation of a top Ministry bloke dead here, and politically it would be a good thing for Robards to nip this killer in the bud, coming out the other side all smiles. So they bring some Aurors to investigate instead of any scrubs from the DMLE Enforcer Squad." To my side, Dover chuckled a bit at my assessment. "Okay, I guess I'm intrigued. Have our friends at Scotland Yard send me over the files on the previous victims, and I'll get right on investigating this area some more."

I could almost feel Boot's mood change from reproachful to approving within a sentence or two. Reproachful and all frowns at my audacity in questioning Head Auror Robards's politicking, and approving and all slightly less frowny-frowns at my initiative and false go-getter attitude. Boot liked initiative.

Dover, on the other hand, did not. He groaned loudly. "Christ I was hoping to take the weekend off for a change. Are we taking the body or are the Muggles dealing with it?"

"Our Cutters will be doing the autopsy first," said Boot. "The proper parties have been owled."

Dover yawned uninterestingly. "What about the press? Our press, I mean."

"Best to keep them out of this," I replied. "I'm guessing Robards would want them to know about the identity of this body only after this killer's been taken care of. If we jumped the gun ahead of time and spent longer than expected finding this killer, it would be detrimental to Robards's image. Am I right, Captain?"

That was just the party line. I just really didn't like dealing with the press in any capacity.

"You are correct."

Dover suddenly grabbed a hold of my shoulders, steering me around to face towards the entrance of the dilapidated warehouse. "I repeat: what about the press?"

"Daily Prophet reporter Maximillian Jensen and his assistant, Arcturus Fallon," Boot said automatically. The man was seriously a walking repository of random knowledge, hence why he was above me in the ranks despite the age difference being a month. Ambition, knowledge and tedious note taking. The bitchin' eyepatch probably scared off any competitors as well.

"Yes thank you, I know who they are," I said somewhat snappishly. The Daily Prophet's very own paid vultures. Ugh. "Dover, go deal with them, and keep your mouth shut."

"What, me?" Dover said airily. "Potter, the press is your area of expertise, not mine. I'm afraid I might just let slip the identity of Mr Grant here."

"Goren," Boot corrected.


I, meanwhile, gave Dover a patented death glare I'd been working on since we'd been assigned as partners. Unfortunately, the effect was lost on my fellow Auror, appearing ever the saint with that stupid grin on his face. I think the tiredness in my features dispelled the illusion of fear.

"And I may just let it slip to Robards in your next review how a pay cut would work wonders for your character," I told Dover harshly. He rolled his eyes in response, motioning for me to head towards the habitual journalism duo. Sighing, I shuffled around the body, wove my way past a few stray Aurors, twice glancing back at the small pool of blood that had caught my attention earlier. That time of the season, I suppose.

"Ahh, Mr Potter," Jensen said pleasantly. He was rather a nondescript man, except for that one glaring thing. His perpetually mute and sallow friend Fallon said nothing, for a change. Poor guy had probably swallowed too much of the metaphorical slime issuing forth from Jensen's mouth, forever damaging his voicebox. "How would my favourite Auror like to comment on this mysterious death?"

"Mr Jensen, you appear awfully transparent today," I said with a false smile. "What, perchance, would make such a fine specimen of a living wizard such as yourself believe that this death has any mystery to it?"

Jensen waggled a pearly-white finger at me, chuckling. "Mr Potter, you needn't hedge the morning away. I'm simply assuming that the presence of yourself and the other fine young witches and wizards of the DMLE in such a Muggle area might be interesting enough for an article or two. What do you say?"

"Have you taken any pictures?"

"Unlikely, given my ghostly disposition," Jensen said lightly.

"I wasn't talking to you, Mr Jensen." I pointed a finger at his mute assistant who doubled as a photographer. Both ghost and human could spot the wand-tip pointing out of my wrist holster as I gestured to the big camera hanging from Fallon's neck. "Mr Fallon?"

The mute man shook his head in negative. Just to be sure, I released my wand with a flick of the wrist, pointed it at the camera and deftly floated it off its position around Fallon's neck and into my hands. I checked the film with tired eyes and a few revealing spells. I came up empty.

"Thank you for your cooperation, Mr Fallon," I said, handing the camera back. I turned to Jensen. "At this juncture, Mr Jensen, I am invoking the binding spells placed on you and requesting that you leave the premises. I remind you that this is a Muggle neighbourhood-"

"I'd look no less out of place then anything else, given that I'm invisible to them," Jensen said. "In fact, you'd be the crazy one talking to thin air if Fallon weren't here beside me."

I didn't let him slow down my invocation. "I am now going to bind you in accordance to the laws set up especially for ghosts in sensitive positions such as yourself. The standard parameters apply, so if you would please repeat it aloud for the purposes of the verbal binding?"

Ghosts were basically imprints, stranded behind by their own anchors and unable to move on by themselves. We can exorcise them into not having a form as such, but they'll always exist as imprints even if they can't communicate with us in the current dimension. Some ghosts get bored - Jensen was one of them. His aspirations to be a super sleuth reporter were no doubt hampered by the multitude of bindings placed on him to prevent him from leaking Ministry secrets to the world. Combine that with the various wards and protections surrounding places of importance, and the super sleuth ghostly reporter was basically a normal journalist without the ability to write up his own articles.

Jensen's voice was droning and automatic, having done this a few million times before. "I will not be able to communicate the events witnessed today in any form or fashion unless you or your superiors want me to. Mr Fallon will be the witness of the binding and will not be able to communicate anything of a similar nature to what I am not to communicate. Overcoming the binding in any form is an immediate and punishable offence to be taken up with the proper courts."

"The binding will be revoked when myself of my superiors wish it to be," I said. "You have acknowledged the terms and conditions, and you must now follow them in three, two and one." I swept my wand in an arc and muttered a quick incantation, invoking the binding spell. A wave of magic, invisible to the naked eye but with a feeling of stuffy warmth, swept over the three of us.

"So mote it be," Jensen murmured.

"Thank you for your time, Mr Jensen," I said, re-holstering my wand.

Jensen nodded, resigned yet affable as always. "As you wish, Mr Potter. I sure do hope you are the one to give me the full scoop when the binding is released this time."

"Me too," I said sarcastically. "You have ten seconds to leave, Mr Jensen. Mr Fallon, if you would please follow out of courtesy, that would be sporting."

Jensen faded into nothingness silently while Fallon Apparated away with a loud crack. Rubbing my head as the dull pounding sensation from earlier returned in full force, I made my way back to Boot and Dover, both standing over where Mr Goren's body was minutes ago. He was now most likely being transported for an autopsy, the post-mortem 'Cutters' taking him away while I was dealing with Jensen.

Boot was standing rigidly in the same spot that I had left him in, while Dover was sluggishly circling the area, wand out but no spells being cast.

"Anything new?" I asked redundantly. If there was something new, I'm sure Boot would be taking notes and Dover wouldn't look so bored.

"There are no new developments," Boot informed. "The body has been moved and the inert Portkey used to transport it here is being catalogued as evidence. It will be examined as soon as the proper paperwork has been filled out."

Business as usual, then. "We have the other dead Portkeys coming with the files on our previous victims?"


"What about other tracks or any kind?"

"No sign of anything," Dover reported. "Doubt there would be. This place has been abandoned for years now. Since our Muggle-killing wizard has Portkeys, he doesn't need to even be in London to get the bodies here."

It took about ten minutes to search the entire warehouse myself for any small clue. The other Aurors and Enforcers were starting to clear out, and with them went the Muggle policemen and the small crowd that had gathered outside of the crime scene perimeter, no doubt curious about the attention their neighbourhood's abandoned warehouse was getting. Myself, Boot and Dover were the last ones to pack it in, at my behest.

"Yeah, I've got all I can here," I announced. Dover murmured something that sounded like a "finally" and Boot just nodded sharply, jotting something down on his notes.

"The crime scene has been extensively photographed, the body moved and those present have clear memories of the scene for later Pensieve study?"

I nodded, as did Dover. Boot narrowed his eyes at the other, less reliable, Auror in the immediate vicinity. "Auror Dover, are your memories clear enough for later study?"

"Couple of cobwebs, but I doubt there's anything important there," Dover said disarmingly. Sometimes we would watch a memory and literal cobwebs would appear to obfuscate the experience. My focus was a little off too, so I wouldn't be letting anybody else see my replayed memories. I'd imagine the fact that everything was carrying a bluish hue and the pool of Goren's blood was flashing like a strobe light might raise certain alarms for those watching.

"We're all good, Captain. Stop fussing." I whipped my wand out and pointed it at the pool o' blood. There was a moment there when the incantation for the Scouring Spell didn't issue forth from my lips. I remained a little too focused on the bloody pool - removing it just didn't feel like the right thing to do. Shaking off the feeling and steeling myself, I spoke the spell aloud, "Scourgify!"

Dover looked relieved. "And we're out of here. Great. It's cold."

"Oh, and I'm going to have to take tonight off, Captain," I remarked, not tearing my eyes away as the blood slowly dissolved into the ground. The flashing strobe light in my mind's eye subdued pitifully. "Prior engagement. Dover's covering me."

"I am?" Dover exclaimed. Boot didn't say a thing and Apparated away. Dover huffed and followed, leaving me alone staring at the blood-free ground.

Plans for the day? Work on this new investigation in the morning, lunch with an old friend, an afternoon of more work, a light dinner and a spot of murder to finish off the night. The dull headache, the fascination with blood, the bluish hue and the uneasy feeling that everything felt less maintained and more real all meant one thing: contract renewal was upon me. I had about a week left but I didn't want to put it off. Putting it off meant a few more nasty side effects, and since I had my target where I wanted him, renewal would go down easily before midnight tonight.

His name was Christian Selwyn. A Death Eater who escaped a stint in Azkaban twice after both of Voldemort's downfalls, of who I doubted he would be missed. When Verdant Greengrass, another former Death Eater, was found dead three months ago and his son-in-law the responsible party, nobody had batted an eye. I was getting good at making sure nobody looked too closely into the dead men left behind after a contract renewal.

If I wanted to justify it, I could say that contract renewal has its perks. Doing the world a favour by ridding it of those that shouldn't continue living because of their former devotion to Voldemort, and fulfilling my own needs for constant renewal and continued contractual stability.

Perks. Of course.


Hours Later: Lunches

The Ministry of Magic had been through the ringer since its halcyon days of trying to get me expelled from Hogwarts. Scrimgeour's brief tenure as Minister added maybe two or three new Aurors to the force, jailed twenty innocent wizards in Azkaban and spent a year falsely reassuring the world that everything was just peachy keen. Voldemort's ownership of the place gutted the Department of Mysteries, flayed the more Muggle-friendly departments, and added the three Death Eaters in Britain that weren't already working for the Ministry to the payroll. Kingsley Shacklebolt's added such stellar Aurors such as myself, Terry, and Ron there for a few months, to the DMLE. After the Ministry Fire of December '98 and Kingsley's death, some twat who seemed a little too attached to his satin fez held the position of Minister for about a week before I intervened and got Dirk Cresswell into the top job.

I guess I could say the Ministry's changes have been for the better. Sure there were still corrupt bastards walking the halls and the occasional incident of gold passing hands and criminals walking free, but I wouldn't be working here if I still thought it was the Fudge/Scrimgeour/Voldemort days. Umbridge's brutal murder during the war probably helped things along in that regard.

I spent most of my days and nights on the second floor, owned entirely by the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. The lowest echelon workers on the DMLE food chain were on the Magical Law Enforcement Squad - Enforcers, as they were called. The Hit Wizards took up a few offices of their own, and I can safely call them the most competent group in the entire office. The Auror Office was a bit hit-and-miss. Robards was a political leech who controlled the place as if each Auror was a vehicle for his election to Minister next year. As such, Dover and myself had got shafted to this pedestrian case, these 'Sorcerer' murders, a case that would usually be handled by Enforcers unless some very Dark Magic was afoot.

I didn't mind, actually. I figured we'd find a common link between the victims, the Cutters dealing with Mr Goren's body would find something magical or odd about the killings, and we'd do the detective thing and catch a two-bit Muggle-killing tosser in his evil lair before he'd kill again. Maybe Robards would give us a pay raise if we managed to make him look good.

However, the morning passed and the files we combed over were typed in an annoyingly fine print. I was also rather distracted, while Dover was just being lazy.

"What I don't get," Dover started, "is why would he leave the bodies out like that? I mean, I'd understand if this was a pureblood nutter proving to the world that he killed a few Muggles, but I'd expect something more... arty."

"Arty," I said distractedly, feigning interest while scouring victim number one's file again. Muggle, stabbed in the chest. No obvious relation to any of the succeeding victims.

Dover abandoned all pretence of working and tossed a file across the way to his cubicle. "Hey, remember those kids we arrested about a year back?"

"Four teenagers trying to start their own cult where killing and displaying dead Muggles was the entrance fee? I vaguely recall it." Three Muggles had died in that little debacle, and that they were just stupid kids helped us prevent a fourth murder.

"Okay, how about the witch who tried to polyjuice herself into a bear and mauled those campers in her half-bear, half-witch state?"

I cracked a smile. Not at the mental image of a few disembowelled campers, but at what Dover was attempting to do. He was an Auror for a reason - he had noticed my recent less-than-charitable behaviour this close to contract renewal, and had deigned to play up his annoyingly puppy-dog optimism about corpses in an attempt to cheer me up. Poor guy's initial tenure as an Auror was a month of Scrimgeour followed by a year of Voldemort, so he had his reasons for being jaded enough to revert to excessive and sometimes fake optimism and chronic laziness.

"Lunch is in half an hour..." he said nonchalantly. I said nothing, merely nodding towards the piles of files. "Come on, Harry! This is Enforcer work. We're more specialised than this! Can't we just pawn it off and go home for the day?"

Really fucking tempting for him, no doubt, and I could almost agree. Boring Auror work was usually a good distraction for a full day. I had planned to be mulling over boring Auror work during my awkward lunch appointment. I had planned to ignore the bluish tinge reality itself carried and the craving for tomato soup until I could get off work and renew my contract.

Unfortunately, my plan to be distracted by work and ignore the renewal was being overtaken by me being distracted by renewal so much it caused me ignore my work. Sighing, I abandoned my own file, chucking it on my little desk haphazardly.

"We're not pawning it off, though. Be back for the afternoon," I said sternly.

Dover grinned. "You don't want to bust out with me? We can go to that place with the dancers and the good fish."

I shook my head. "I've got a lunch date, so no topless birds today. Maybe another time."

Dover nodded, fastened his cloak around his shoulders and waltzed out of the near-empty office space. That Aurors were such specialists in matters of combat and investigation of Dark wizardry that high demand was always a factor, all over the world. Half our office was off curbing a goblin rebellion in South America, hence the empty cubicles. The usually ever-watchful Boot was in Floo Call for another hour or so, so escaping without the judgement of his wicked eyepatch wasn't a problem.

As usual, or what had been usual since the incident with the lifts last year, I took the stairs down to the Atrium. On a normal day, the large chamber was always packed full of commuting wizards and witches, and today was still just a normal Ministry day. I looked over the crowd and spotted the sole bright pink spot to the usually dull greys and blacks. Pink usually meant Tonks.

We bumped into each other about halfway through the crowd. Tonks wasn't exactly tall nor short, but was lanky and had a well-kept athletic build. Her Metamorph talents extended to shaping her body how she wanted it, but keeping the default Tonks was usually easier, and most effort went towards a variety of eclectic hair styles. Her heart-shaped face and sparkling eyes stayed consistent too, and I'd swear that she had barely aged since we'd first met.

I pointed at her hair by way of greeting. "What's with the yellow?"

"The yellow?" she asked, as if remembering that it was actually there. With a scrunch of her nose, the yellow spot on the top of her head was gone, replaced by her default pink. She grinned and started chattering immediately. "I was running a drill with the trainees. Bet them a week of my pay that they couldn't hit me twice with balls of conjured paint through a cloud of smoke." Her grin widened. "I got hit about six times but Hayden cleaned most of it off by the time the smoke cleared. I shifted this spot there, though. Make the poor kids feel a little less worthless."

I grinned back. "Sounds like fun."

"A blast!" she agreed. "You heading to lunch?"

"Got an appointment and everything."

She raised an eyebrow. "Big scary appointment? Important and time sensitive?"

I, being master Auror that I am, caught on quickly to the fact that she was on lunch break too. Hell, I always loved lunch with someone not named Remus Lupin. Plus, with Dover cajoling me out of my cubicle early, I did have some free time. "I can spare half an hour, and I'm running on fumes enough for two lunches. Leaky?"

"Leaky Cauldron it is." She grinned again, hooking her arm in mine and half-dragging me to a nearby Floo, laughing as I accidentally knocked over an elder gentleman along the way.

"Your trainees must love you," I said dryly, once we had emerged through the emerald green flames at the Leaky Cauldron. I flicked my wand out and removed the excess soot the trip had bestowed upon me. "I feel sorry for Hayden too."

"The trainees do love me," she replied, ignoring my sarcasm. No mention of her co-instructor Hayden Blake, a more-experienced and by-the-book type that she had been whittling down for the purpose of entertainment since she had started teaching baby Aurors three years ago. She was also readily available for tutoring sessions for me too, as my quick entry into the Auror Office skipped some helpful stuff the war hadn't taught me, and I was still occasionally running to my best friend for help.

We picked up some food and two butterbeers, scoring an empty booth and settling into easy conversation.

"Whatcha been up to today?" she asked, grabbing a handful on hot chips to munch on. "Robards still riding you?"

I nodded. "Of course. His newest bullshit? New case. The Muggles at Scotland Yard can probably stop sending angry letters to Williamson now - we're all on top of things and doing the Sorcerer."

She snickered a little at my poor wording. "I'll admit to not having read up on any Muggle stuff lately. Too depressing." We both were quiet for a moment. It was a tumultuous season, for both Muggles and wizards. "Is it interesting? The case, I mean."

"The four hours so far? I think I can sum it up as Robards and Boot being petty. Times like this I wish I hadn't pissed off our bear of a Head Auror and his personal pirate toady."

We both shared a laugh. "You could've just run off to the jungles with the rest of the office," Tonks said.

"And not be here for two months?" I said, eyes hardening. "Tonks, I'm not pissing off in the middle of November..."

She knew why. Height of Voldemort war, this time four years ago - he had the Ministry and I had a tent - and her parents were both killed. Even when Voldemort had been killed and the Death Eaters being mostly taken care of seven months later, Tonks had declined active service in the Auror field, opting for an instructor position. She, by her own reasoning, didn't really 'feel' the field anymore, given that the war had proved that the Ministry's corruption meant that the Death Eaters had advantage enough to be a problem and kill her parents in the first place. I didn't blame nor judge her for that, and I was happy she was passing on her knowledge to the next generations of Auror trainees. It was good for her to have accomplishments marred with positivity.

"Thanks Harry," she said honestly. "Means a lot."


And that was true. Ron and Hermione were still great friends - Ron was busy with Quidditch and Hermione was busy getting further magical education in France - but I quite liked how close Tonks and I had become. It started as some good ol' easy joking in the pre-Sirius' death days, some light bonding post-Sirius, some long chats post-Ted and Andromeda, and working within the same proximity at the Ministry. It had all contributed to the forging of a solid friendship.

I could also take credit for her hair, strange as it sounds. Tonks usually shifted her hair to suit her mood, and her depression during and immediately after the war was marred with pale, lank and mousy hair, the pink and spunky look showing up rarely if ever. The bright and long hair started becoming a permanent fixture when I had personally vouched for it about two years back, and she had fun with braids and ponytails that I would pretend to dislike so she'd keep them around more often to annoy me.

Hair was good, I decided. Hair, especially Tonks's, was exciting and distracting. Distracting from my actual lunch appointment and my later contract renewal... Oh yeah, still had that whole business to take-

"You all right, Harry?" Tonks asked curiously, noticing my darkening expression.

"Meeting with an old friend turned reluctant acquaintance in twenty minutes," I said shortly. "Let's ignore that unpleasantness and move on. That sound good?"

She nodded, took a swig of her butterbeer, and launched into a tale from her work. Lunch didn't turn out so bad after all.

My first one, anyway.

My second one started with me examining Remus Lupin's hair. It was grey and depressing. The sky outside the small Muggle cafe was more grey and dreary. The swill the serving lady had called tea was just a mysterious grey colour that I was afraid to drink too much of.

Poor Remus Lupin. The werewolf thing nearly all his life was bad enough, but the constant losses throughout both wars and total compromise of his morals while infiltrating Greyback's clan for almost a year and a half had turned him into a more pitiful and broken man than usual. Threadbare robes replaced with threadbare Muggle clothes. His hair was all grey and his face lined and scarred noticeably more than when we had first met.

"You not using the gold I'm getting you?" I asked bluntly, pointing to a largest hole in his tweed jacket.

He chuckled, though his eyes told me that there was no humour to it. "I've been sending most of it overseas, anonymously of course. A brilliant wizard in Stockholm is heading towards a cure-"

A snort escaped me. "And before that there was a witch in France and before that there was a wizard in New Zealand and before that there was a Muggle/wizard research group off the coast of America."

He took a measured sip of his tea. "A man's allowed to have hope, Harry. I would have an additional hope that you would be more supportive."

I bit my tongue so as not to blurt out that his idea of supporting me seemed to be lacking too. Sirius had made it clear to me back when he was alive - the Marauders took care of their own family. With everybody else in that family dead or imprisoned after Voldemort's first death, Remus chose to forget that when it came to me. Ancient history, but people still dealt with the consequences of choices chosen decades ago.

Instead, I spoke carefully. "It's your gold. I suppose if one day that Swede comes up with the cure, I'll be happy to eat my words as you prance around all human-like on the full moon."

He chuckled again, a little more genuine this time. "Here's hoping."

We were quiet for a moment. That wasn't good. Quiet and a lack of conversation trail meant that Remus Lupin was going to ask one thing. He always did.

"How's Nymphadora?"

I considered taking a sip of the tasteless drink in front of me, as if considering the question. I also considered getting a nearby pen and explaining with diagrams that maybe he should let that whole thing drop. But I didn't. I think it might've been residual guilt or some sort of post-Sirius thing where I didn't want to alienate anyone that was close to my parents. A twenty-one year-old orphan was no different than his eleven year-old counterpart sometimes.

"Tonks is fine," I said. "The anniversary is coming up, but I'll be there for her."

"Good." Remus nodded, probably trying to convince himself. "That's good."

More silence. Apparating away was sounding like a good idea at the moment, Muggle-filled cafe or no.

"She knows I was sorry, right?" Remus said suddenly. Merlin on a pogo stick...

"She knows that you're dead," I said bluntly. "That you ran away and stayed away, and that you died while working valiantly as a spy with the werewolf population of England. That's what everybody else knows. I know that you're alive, you've decided to hide yourself away for the rest of your life, and you occasionally invite me to lunch so I can give you gold that I inherited from you after you 'died' and Wolfsbane so you don't kill more people as a wolf."

"It would have never worked out with her-"

"True, because you fucking ran away instead of at least lying to her for a few weeks before breaking her heart. Not even when her parents got killed and all she had was a series of depressing hair styles and a war to fight, you didn't return and at least be there as a friend or fuck buddy."

"There was never anything physical there," he admitted. "She was too young..."

"And you were too old, and there was a war going on, and you're now a monster that butchered children while working for Greyback." I had heard it all before, hence the awkwardness. "You could've easily avoided that whole mess."

He opened his mouth as if to speak again, but I cut him off. "I have to get back to work, Remus. So here's what you need to know: I don't want you to torture yourself and me over piss-poor tea. Tonks is a big girl, and she's taking care of herself just fine these days. You've got your Wolfsbane until after the next full moon cycle, and I'll bring you some more gold as soon we can set something up for next time."

He finished off his tea and let out a disgusted noise. "I have better tea at my place," he offered. I affixed a blank look on my face and he took it in. "Maybe next time."

"Maybe." I threw him a tight smile, nodded, and exited the cafe. A brisk walk to a nearby alleyway later, I Apparated back to the Ministry. The sudden shift from outside cold to inside warmth threw me a bit. It had been years since I'd faked his death, but my friendship with Remus Lupin had stayed on a constant downward slope as he continued on as he did - torturing himself, sequestering himself with the Muggles and refusing constant contact with anyone but me.

Mainly, I think I was disgusted with him because he ran away. Made himself into a monster while stuck with Greyback for almost two years, all because he ran away. I don't run away anymore. When I had to make a big choice, I chose to sign a contract in blood. I chose to renew the contract with the blood of others, and I'm going to stick by that choice for as long as it takes.

Running away was not how to go about things.


That Night: The Selwyn Renewal

The afternoon hours whittled away easily enough. To the general amusement of the office, Boot had given Dover a dressing down when the latter had arrived back from lunch two hours late. The case was starting to become frustrating in its bland yet oddly random nature. Having ruled out that the victims were related at all beyond their lack of magic in their natures, we and the Cutter behind Mr Goren's autopsy spent a few hours examining the knife wound, trying to figure out if a specific type of knife would've been used on each victim. Eventually, coming up empty after twelve hours since getting the investigation, we called it a night, Dover heading off to the pub and me heading 'home' for some 'rest'.

I Apparated across the street of Selwyn's favourite hangout. I had been following the man sporadically for about two months now, establishing his habitual patterns. He was leaving his modest mansion less and less as the weather got colder, preferring to have house elves do most of his busywork. I guessed he was getting sicker as the Autumn died down, but he was never sick enough to not find time for a drink with an old friend or two every Friday, a meeting with his solicitor on Sunday afternoon to check on his overseas business acquisitions, and the Wednesday evening visit to his favourite whorehouse.

The place was wizard-owned, but mostly kept Muggle girls. They were usually either tourists or kidnapped rich girls that the wizards in charge could hold hostage and have abused while they finagled cash from their parents. Apart from a few choice employees, I doubted the Ministry really knew about the place enough to have it shut down and its patrons all arrested and castrated.

Hell, I had only found out about the place because my previous kill, Lord Verdant Greengrass, was a regular. The only people who could know the true nature of the house were those with specific invitations to the place - not quite a Fidellius Charm, as the place had Muggle customers too and no Muggle could get through a Fidellius, invitation or no. Some post-renewal snooping had found me the invitation that Verdant used, and it was still valid even after the man died. I caught onto Selwyn's habits here soon after, and my plan came to fruition.

I entered the house with some minor glamour charms on my face, though I found out that was pretty unnecessary when a small curtained room before the reception area had a collection of garish face masks for customer use. Putting one on felt rather silly, like I was attending a masquerade with prostitution involved. But I did, casually waltzing up to the reception desk in the next room like I did this sort of thing every night.

The plump girl manning the front desk plastered a fake smile on her face when I approached. "Welcome. May I see your invitation?"

Muggle, I figured. Having the invitation meant I could enter the whorehouse in the first place, but she just thought there was no magic afoot and the invitation was just a piece of signed paper.

I handed it over, and she scanned it, nodding. "Welcome back, Lord Greengrass. Would you like your regular room? Shall I inform the Mistress of Pain you are expecting her?"

"Actually..." I flicked my wand at her. "Imperio. How about you tell me where Mr Selwyn is?"

"Room thirty-four, on the second floor," she said automatically. "Waitin' for Honeybee to finish off Mr Lord on the third floor."

"Are the rooms nearest to Mr Selwyn's occupied?" I coaxed.

Her unfocused eyes checked a small register in front of her. "None in that area are being used at the moment."

"Very well. Miss, when I snap my fingers-" And remove the spell, I added silently, "- you will forget that I was here. No one wanted to know where Selwyn was tonight. In fact, you should quit this crappy job and go back to school or something. Do you understand?"

She nodded. Good.

After lifting the spell, I headed up a nearby staircase instead of using the service lift, somewhat disturbed by the elegance of the decor along the way. For a whorehouse, it was all very well furnished, but if the girl at reception was any indication, perhaps all the money should've gone towards keeping prettier women on staff.

Ridding the thought by smacking the side of my head, I made my way to the second floor. I made use of a Disillusionment Charm as I skulked the brightly-lit halls, studiously ignoring the colourful noises coming from the rooms I passed. Eventually, I arrived at a small cluster of rooms, numbered thirty to thirty-six. Selwyn's was smack dab in the middle, and I could only hear his light coughing through the wall.

I took a knee and tapped the walls outside his room with my wand, trying to detect any rudimentary wards the man had put up for his privacy. I figured that he was arrogant enough to not bother, and I was right. He coughed again - no Silencing Ward, obviously.

I was able to get Selwyn's unlocked door open easily, and the elegance of the place screamed to me as the new and polished door opened without a creak. I rolled my eyes and tiptoed into the room, wand raised and ready. I heard Selwyn start another coughing fit.

I walked into a large living room area, complete with some magazines and a bar for some pre-show warming up for the customers. A large red couch took up the centre of the room in front of a roaring fireplace. Only one closed door stood to my left - a bedroom, I gathered, and Selwyn's coughs clued me in to him being inside. I cautiously made my way to the bedroom door - post-war Death Eaters had a paranoid streak a mile wide, and I knew Selwyn would be a slippery customer to kill if I spooked him early.

Plan? Blow the door open, go wands-a-blazing and decapitate him. I'd only have a minute at best to secure his blood for the contract renewal. This sort of magic was finicky.

I very consciously heard my own footstep beneath me, and I grimaced. Yeah, when I'm stupid enough to forget the Silencing Charm on my shoes, my plans usually end up awry. Maybe Selwyn hadn't heard it...

I had no doubt that he heard it when the door blew open before I could wave my wand, something sharp and very spear-like barrelling through the splintered wood. The spear, conjured no doubt, met my lower leg before I could banish it, the tip penetrating right through my skin, smashing through leg muscle and bone like it was paper. Whatever kinetic force Selwyn had put behind the harpoon's banishment, it allowed the harpoon to go all the way through to the other side and land uselessly behind me. My leg exploded in pain and my brain barely registered the blood pouring down my leg and onto my shoes.

"Who the bloody hell are you?" Selwyn roared. I only vaguely heard him, too busy holding a sparkling iridescent shield in place just in case he started throwing spells again. Standing tall like I was currently became a problem as my leg protested. Painfully. I couldn't help but lose my balance and hit the ground. Fuck, that one hurt.

"You're not that whore!" Selwyn deduced, suddenly right in front of me with a wand in my face. The lightheadedness caused by harpoon-through-leg syndrome made me realise that I dropped my wand on the way down. It was just off to my right, I knew. Within grabbing distance. I let out a loud and fake moan.

"Well?" Selwyn demanded. "You think I didn't hear the loud footsteps while I was in the bedroom, mate? You're not exactly a smart one, are you?"

He was right. I had forgotten to cast a Silencing Spell on myself while I was skulking. Well, a hole in my leg was a good reminder that I had my moments of stupidity, and that being more careful might not be a bad thing next time.

In my defence, I was also very tired and renewal time threw me off something terrible when it came to concentration.

Yeah, I'll need a better defence next time.

"Please don't kill me!" I cried, producing another pathetic moan and carefully shifting to the right a bit. I was damn sure he hadn't noticed that I was faking. It hurt, but not enough to turn me into a snivelling schoolboy.

"Who are you?" Selwyn repeated. I moaned and shifted slightly once more. He was brandishing his wand, blue sparks shooting out of the tip. "Who the fuck are-"

I shut him out. My hand was on my wand. The harpoon he had banished through my leg was on the floor behind me.

"Oi! Don't you even dare-"

I flicked my wand behind me, and the harpoon rose up and sliced through the air, heading for his chest region. He deflected it with a deft flick of his wand, recovering immediately and taking careful aim to try and finish me off. I was faster.

I rolled to my left, grimacing as my injured leg screamed in pain, taking cover behind the nearby couch. I quickly transfigured the cushions into stone, mentally patting myself on the back as three smaller harpoons smashed into the stone and not my body. I could hear him cursing me in between spells, now slamming harmlessly into one of my stronger shields protecting the couch and myself. Lying down on my stomach, I poked my wand underneath the couch and took aim at my steadily-approaching target. A non-verbal incantation later, and a conjured harpoon of my own shot out. Selwyn had been too busy setting fire to the couch to deflect this one.

My harpoon hissed through the air at a much, much, faster momentum than his had, and I didn't have to push mine through a door. The harpoon struck his ankle and kept going, a rough and decidedly squishy sound taking his entire foot with it. The harpoon embedded itself to the wall behind my target, his entire right foot hanging off of it. From where the harpoon had initially struck until the wall, an indescribably bloody trail marked the entire journey,

He screamed like a banshee and hit the floor, and I hoisted myself up to the couch and peered over the top of it, ignoring the broken stone, embedded harpoons and slight burns the once-stylish couch now bore. I briefly took in the sight of the one-footed Christian Selwyn, clutching his bloody stump and looking like he was about to bleed out right then and there. Blood messily splashed about and covered the room, matching the destroyed muscle and bone decor.

"You're dead!" he wailed. "I will fucking-"

A soft pfft noise briefly filled the air, my spell hitting his neck soundly. The slicing open of his throat silenced him for good.

"What a fucking disaster..." I murmured. Renewal first, followed by making sure I wasn't about to die anytime soon, then a good ol' fashioned clean-up. I sighed as I took in the blood-covered room.

I dragged myself over the couch, hitting the floor with a slight thud. Selwyn's mutilated body lay before me, and it was a thankfully short trip for my injured leg. Along the way, I accidentally crushed his wand with my stomach, but it was no loss. I soon found myself close enough to his fatal neck wound to dip the tip of my wand in the blood, as if I were dipping a quill in a bottle of ink.

A burst of orange lit the blood on my wand, and I was able to sign my name into the air with a flourish. Blood-red words hung in the air for a moment, reminding me as usual of the encounter with Riddle's Horcrux in my second year.

Harry James Potter.

The words eventually started to burn, though I felt no heat and no smoke choked up the room. The words signing the dotted line of the contract, signed in the blood of a recent kill by the wand that caused the death. My signature written into the fabric of the reality itself, the letters burning into the very existence of this reality my contract had created and become. Periodic renewals maintaining the spell.

When the fire left the air and the words had disappeared, I felt the renewal take hold. The bluish hue was gone. The feeling that all was not quite right was reversed and everything felt just right again. The fascination with blood was replaced with disgust over the scene before me - the hole in my leg, the foot stuck to the wall, the dead Death Eater.

I dove into my own mind. Thoughts of a chaotic nature flittered about; the veritable cyclone of nagging pressure in my mind caused by the contract renewal's deadline subsided now. I mentally rearranged, I pushed and I pushed, thoughts of contracts and how things once were receding into corners left untouched by my waking mind. Until the next renewal deadline approached, it would be only a slight battle to keep the repression up and running.

I sighed aloud and let my mind settle. Focusing on cleaning up my newest mess helped keep things simple. There was something methodical to be had in removing all evidence of a battle from the room, the body of Christian Selwyn included.

The contract had been renewed.


January 12th, 1999: Signed In Blood

As the new year turned only a year earlier, right at the height of Voldemort's occupation of the Ministry and after months of fruitless Horcrux hunting, I joined a few Order members for a covert raid of Malfoy Manor. Looking for possible Horcruxes was the main objective, and that failed, but finding several enemies of Voldemort's locked up in Malfoy's cellar was a nice bonus. Olivander and Fortescue were probably back running their stores at Diagon Alley by now, and I'd be sure to get free wand polish or chocolate sundaes for my accidental heroics. But the other two individuals I rescued were a lot more grateful - Voldemort had a track record for killing their kind off, so I got two life debts.

I called in one debt to have Hufflepuff's Cup retrieved from the Lestrange family vault, another Horcrux to add to the 'to be destroyed' pile. I called in the other just a few weeks ago, when times got tough and I decided to squirrel a way out of my dilemma. Cagey bastards that they were, getting these two to help me out despite them thinking both life debts had been repaid by retrieving the Horcrux was a challenge, but the two had procured most of the necessary ingredients required. Tonight, we had met up in a little underground ritual chamber, and the two creatures attempted to blackmail me.

In return, I gifted one with a Cutting Curse to separate his head from his shoulders and promised to send a fruit basket to the other at a later date.

"You eat muffins, right?" I said, stirring the simmering concoction in front of me. The concoction's potency to my nose could only be described as 'horrifying'.

My goblin accomplice sneered. He was a short fella, goblin and all that, and only distinguishable by his sharp shoulders and a scar on his cheek. "I do hope my assistance in this little destruction of the natural order of things pays adequately."

I hooked a thumb over my shoulder, pointing to the dead goblin behind me. Well, the body anyway. The head was more to my side. "You can have his share. Chieftains always want more than I can afford."

Loki said nothing. Though I had demonstrated my apparent lack of respect for the goblin race by killing a chieftain (first human-goblin death in England since Voldemort, so I've got that going for me) right before his eyes moments earlier, I still needed him on my side. Goblins had their uses if you stroked their egos enough and gave them vaultfuls of gold to swim in. Don't get me wrong - I didn't trust the little bastards as far as I could throw them. However, Loki had helped procure a lot of shady ingredients needed for the spell and had only attempted extortion because his chieftain bullied him into it. I guess I owed him something, but only a little.

"Look, you can identify our sacrifice, right?" I said. The concoction in the small cauldron was the correct mauve colour now, and I extinguished the conjured flames underneath the cauldron. Setting it aside to cool for a minute, I awaited Loki's reply.

"Draco Malfoy."

"With Lucius and Narcissa dead, who stands to gain the immense wealth of the Malfoy family, once we subtract the compensations our Ministry took and removed Draco from the picture?" I manually emptied the small cauldron's contents into my bigger cauldron. Well... I suppose vat would be a more applicable term for it. Bigger than the one used by Voldemort to return to corporeal form at the end of my fourth year at Hogwarts, that's for sure.

Huh. I suddenly wondered why Voldemort hadn't tried something as crazy as I was attempting. I got the feeling he wouldn't have the stones to test it out, lest he accidentally killed himself and destroyed most of Britain with him.

"Most of it would go overseas to their French relatives..."

"Right!" I exclaimed. "And then if a good portion of it 'disappeared' as well, later reappearing in your hands by generous donation?"

Loki scowled at me. "I expect a bonus. Some of the ingredients were extremely difficult to procure."

"Did any of your ingredients curse you?" I asked darkly, rubbing my left arm a little. Thank God Draco's aim was horrendous. Though it was a good lesson for any future planned murders - Silencing Spells. Never forget the Silencing Spells. Any Death Eater worth his weight in slaughtered innocents would have a healthy level of paranoia to back it up. Draco tried to kill Dumbledore his first time out - I suspect that gave him a little edge over a garden variety Death Eater.

The chamber was silent as I checked over the rest of my work. Most of the potions, concoctions and solutions were being mixed in my vat, and the runes had been painted or etched into their appropriate surfaces. The chamber was warded to high hell by goblin-made wards too - it was my hope that no Ministry monitoring spells would pick up on the surge of magic to come.

Loki spoke up after a minute or so. "Are you certain the contract is foolproof?"

"I spent three days hammering out the details, didn't I?" Three days and three nights writing that damn thing. The monster-sized roll of parchment was currently propped up against a nearby wall right next to the unconscious Draco Malfoy.

The berk scoffed at me. "You're filling me with confidence."

"I also spent a day checking for spelling errors," I replied acidly. "I'll admit to this sort-of magic being out of my league-"

"You're shifting reality. This sort of magic defies probable success and enters a certain-"

"The spell is about intent. My intent is to shift the current reality and bind it to a written contract. A contract to be renewed as often as it takes to maintain the new reality. To maintain this little bubble, this chance for a better ending."

"It's dangerous magic. Wizards have died attempting spells of this calibre."

"And some wizards die mispronouncing 'Wingardium Leviosa'," I retorted. "All of this is necessary." I flapped my uninjured arm around the chamber's width to add to my point.

There was no reply to that, so I continued, "The war was brutal, the war was horrible, and it is over. I do not wish to change things in their entirely. The war happened, and there'd be too many variables that this reality shift cannot cover if I were to erase it completely. The contract can't bring people back to life. It can, however, remove memories, erase people, erase events, change memories and shift the perception of others and what they think happened during the war. Not just mental changes - it will change physical and more tangible objects, like documents and photographs. But, most importantly of all, it will save my friends and those who fought alongside me in the war."

"That you yourself get something out this is..."

I grinned crookedly, though there was no humour in it. Loki shuddered a little. "Like I said before, this is a chance at a better ending." I sighed frustratingly. "I spent half a year hunting down Death Eaters that survived the Battle of Hogwarts with the full backing of the Ministry. That's fine. That's expected. We were rebuilding. But then corruption runs rampant again and Kinglsey's backed into a corner. Those bitter that Voldemort didn't stop the Muggleborn 'menace' still have enough influence to start a witch hunt against the Order. For the things we've done, that I believed necessary at the time and still do, we're about to be crucified for it..."

A full-blown trial would end in a one-way trip to Azkaban for me alone at best, the imprisonment and the complete devastation of my friends and their families at worst. Use of Unforgivables; murder of Death Eaters and Snatchers; collateral damage in several skirmishes, resulting in wizard and Muggle deaths. Apparently, our side didn't deserve to have bygones be bygones and things to be just let go. Both sides did bad things, but our side was just. If shifting reality and changing things for the better was what I had to do, I would do it again and again. I was really fucking tired. I wanted the war to go away and I wanted our Ministry to focus on rebuilding itself. I wanted to join the Aurors and spend my days with some excitement, while forging new friendships and maintaining the ones I had now - a happy little bubble with a chance for a good ending.

"I won't run either," I declared aloud. Escaping Wizarding Britain for sunnier pastures would result in a manhunt, my friends getting harsher sentences or an international trial instead of just a local one. Besides that? I do not run from my problems.

Loki's face turned pensive. I checked my vat 'o potions, solutions and concoctions. It was looking rather brown and sludgy, but the very obscure texts behind the potion's recipe were clear on the solution needing to be of a certain consistency. I knew better than anyone that books were not the most trustworthy things in the world, but I was trying to shift reality here. Faith and optimism were a must.

"We will be the only ones to remember the reality as it was," I said, indicating to Loki and myself. Actually I planned to bind the pertinent details of tonight's big ritual in Loki's mind so that he couldn't talk about it, but I didn't need to tell him that.

However, he had goblin mind-reading or something. "And who's to say I won't end up like Chieftain Arvark once the spell is complete and your plot has been executed?"

"Do you plan on betraying or blackmailing me, Loki?"

"Goblins are sly creatures, Potter."

"Usually, but you have no backbone to speak of, so I'm not too worried."

He glowered at me. I briefly entertained the thought of vanishing his backbone magically to prove my point and get a cheap laugh, but reality shifting calls.

"Okay, no more delays," I announced. "So I...?"

Loki's beady little eyes scanned over the runes and the vat's contents. Nodding in approval, he indicated for me to put the contract into the sludge with a gnarled finger. With a deliberately well-pronounced "Wingardium Leviosa", I directed the contract into the sludge.

"Light it," Loki instructed.

I tapped the runes, cast a few spells, and heated the vat's contents.

I ignited the contract as the solution toiled and bubbled, an eerie blue smoke issuing forth as the parchment singed at the corners.

I averted my eyes and got a light tan from the eruption of flames taking the vat over as the burning contract mixed with the potion/concoction/solution mixture.

I was knocked on my ass by an invisible shockwave, shaking me in my very core and sending shivers down my spine. I shut my eyes and took a breath.

I was up again when the lights in my head turned themselves back on and a feeling of wrongness had taken hold of me. The fire was dying down, but all I could see was a bluish hue. The thought that I hit my head or ruined the spell occurred and adrenaline pumped in my veins. Loki seemed unaffected.

"Do you see the blue?" I asked, head pounding.

Loki nodded. "It's the shift trying to make itself the 'dominant' reality, as it were. We're perceiving it because we're in here - everyone else is just going about his or her night, I'd wager. The texts aren't clear, but I'd imagine that, closer to a renewal of the contract, the unravelling reality shift would appear the same colour to those who could perceive that reality had been shifted in the first place." Us, he meant.

I knew the basics of what the contract would entail, and how it would need to be renewed at periodic intervals (though Arvark and Loki hadn't been too sure how often, and my own research into the ritual we were using was equally vague). The contract itself didn't exist anymore in solid form - the words and the intent behind them were being used to maintain the reality shift now at a transcendental level. Now, with the contract going about its business and the shift taking hold, it was time to bind it to myself so as to maintain the new reality.

A reality born in blood. Mine and Draco Malfoy's, specifically.

"Diffindo," I murmured, a small cut appearing in my hand. I let a few drops of blood drip into the dying blue flames, and they were finally doused by my small contribution.

My part done, I set about slicing the unconscious Malfoy's pale neck open. Blood splashed all down his front and on the ground beneath him. I didn't have to wait long for him to bleed out, nor did it take long to dip the tip of my wand in his blood. The blood of a man that very wand had just killed.

Taking a few steps away from Malfoy's body, I calmly ignored the odd bluish hue and Loki's penetrating stare, signing my name in the air with a swish of my wand and the appropriate spell:

Harry James Potter.

The blood-red words hung in the air, standing tall in contrast to the blue hue. A determined heat was vibrating through my blood, the heat rendering me immune to the coldness of the underground chamber. The blood on my wand's tip dissipated. The floating words erupted in flame, and so did my head. The most violent assault on my mind, the knowledge of what I had done here tonight pressuring it, testing it. The spell was feeding off of my magic, my blood, my life. The power. The fire. The shift in reality as I knew it. Everybody else who I had shifted wouldn't feel it; I was feeling it for them. My power. My fire. My shift in the reality.

When I opened my eyes again, unaware that I had closed them in the first place when the pain became too intense, I was looking at the roof of the chamber. White marble, no blue to speak of. I could feel the reality around me. I had shifted it successfully.

A contract signed in blood. A contract that would need to be signed again and again, as long as it takes.

"I think I did it..." I muttered. Loki, his face displaying high amounts of shock and disbelief that I had successfully shifted reality, simply stared.

As long as it takes.


To be continued in Chapter Two: Nine.