Day Six (Three Days Since Arrival)

Thwack.

Harry fell back, robes flying and arms twisting desperately. The wooden blade in his hand blurred, meeting its kin again and again in a flurry of cracks and thumps. Distantly, he recognized he was holding up better than he had the last dozen times, but given that those had consisted of being disarmed almost immediately after beginning, that was hardly comforting.

"Up, Harry. Keep your guard up." Saber punctuated her remark with a vicious downward swing. Harry grunted as the practice blade was forced past his knees, and before he could fix his guard Saber hurled an iron-gauntleted fist into his stomach.

Huh...when did I lie down-

He blearily realized the blue above him was the sky, and that he was sprawled on his back, arms and legs flung about randomly. The snow settled down on him, wet and cold, soaking into his bare skin.

"Will someone get me the number of that train?" he croaked out. "I think it stole my lungs."

"You have improved, Harry." Armored boots smashed the snow into wet clumps as Saber's face appeared in his vision. "That is not much, however. You still hold your blade too tightly, and you must keep your weapon up."

"Eh..." he managed. "Right. I'll remember that next time."

Saber reached down with one hand, effortlessly hauling him up out of the snow. "'Next time' is now. We need to correct this." She offered him the practice sword, which he took reluctantly.

The practice weapon was more than the hunk of wood he had originally expected; after Saber's first attempts had snapped after two or three strokes, Krum had shaken his head, directed her to carve out another pair of branches, and Transfigured them into rough approximations of swords. Saber, of course, had taken umbrage with the results and had him continue altering the weapons until she was fully satisfied with the final products. Now each practice sword was a three-foot long replica of the real thing, only made from wood instead of steel.

Krum, Harry mused, was very good at Transfiguration.

Saber took a few steps back, steadying herself and bringing the sword up before her in her standard two-handed guard. Harry sighed and lifted his own, aching arms to duplicate her stance.

This is going to be a long few months..


Day Eight (Four Days Since Arrival)

"Reducto."

"Protego!"

A bang split the air, and Harry winced as light danced wildly off the hasty shield he had raised in front of him. Blinking furiously, he adjusted his glasses with his free hand as he looked frantically for Krum.

"Incendio."

Another bang sounded. Harry rolled instinctively, the snow he had just been standing in vaporizing in a shower of heat as flames roared up behind him. The spell left an orange trail through the air as it passed; the British teen jerked his wand out and howled, "Stupefy!"

Crimson light flared as it hurtled through the air. Krum deflected it with a negligent wave of his wand and intoned, "Inumbro."

A dark veil dropped across Harry's face, he clawed instinctively at the shadow, but felt his hand pass through it and contact skin and flesh. He let out a grunt of frustration.

"Dispel it," Krum said from somewhere behind him, "quickly. Vomo."

His stomach churned, and with a gasp he threw up, ejecting today's breakfast and lunch somewhere in front of him. He fell to his knees, choking.

Have to cast a spell...nonverbally... He tried the first one to come to mind. Levicorpus!

A short grunt told him it had worked. There was a whoosh of air as Krum was presumably whisked off his feet. Right, now to stop dumping my guts-

Abluo! For a beat, he wondered if the hasty nonverbal spell had worked, but his stomach stopped feeling like a washing machine, so he supposed it had. "Abluo!" The incantation, more familiar to him, quickly removed the veil from his eyes. He leaped to his feet, wand at the ready -

"Crucio."

Harry screamed as pain racked his body. He tried to keep his feet, but fire surged through his legs, and he fell again, this time face down in something soft, wet, and smelly.

God damnit, did I just fall into a pool of my own vomit-

"Enough."

The pain quieted, trembling relief slamming through his veins. A strong hand gripped his arm and hauled him up. "Tergo." Whatever portions of his meals that had managed to get on his face disappeared.

Krum stood before him, a thoughtful look replacing his usual scowl. "Not bad, Potter. I vos vinning until you used that nonverbal spell. It vos good that you used it to give yourself breathing room, but you took too long in dispelling the Shadow Charm and Vomiting Curse. I vould say that there is nothing vrong vith your reactions, but your repertoire of spells could use some vork. There is, for example, an easier vay to dispel ailments rather than casting the same spell twice."

Harry adjusted his glasses. "...yeah?"

A faint hint of a smile crinkled Krum's face. "Come on, Potter. Time to hit the textbooks."

Through years of exposure to Hermione, Harry suppressed the urge not to groan.

Barely.


Day Twelve (Six Days Since Arrival)

The Deathwind Curse is a very powerful Dark Spell that creates a vortex of raging winds. These winds will scour the flesh off any organism that enters the vortex. Once contacted by the winds, the flesh will begin to shred off the affected area, continuing until the area is stripped down to the bone. The curse will also spread through the target's body, making it incredibly dangerous. There is no defense against this spell, though the vortex can be interrupted before it is fully formed by a variety of spells, including Ventus or Aguamenti. A variant of this curse involves sending a single blade of wind as a projectile, which possesses all the properties of the vortex...

Harry closed The Dark Arts of Durmstrang, feeling rather queasy. The textbook was Krum's, having passed to Harry upon commencement of the training with the Bulgarian seemingly glad to be rid of it. Since perusing its pages, Harry understood why that might be.

"Yes," Krum appeared at Harry's elbow, as if from underneath an Invisibility Cloak, "that vos my reaction too."

The younger wizard yelped and jumped in his chair, banging his thighs against the table's underside. "Could you not do that, Krum? I'm gonna need some Mediwizard spells at this rate."

Krum did not reply, but looked slightly sheepish.

"So, you haff read the spells assigned for today?"

"Yeah," Harry muttered. He gave Krum a suspicious glance. "You're not going to cast the Deathwind Curse on me, are you?"

The Bulgarian paled. "Of course not. There is only one potion that can remove its effects, and it requires months of brewing under extremely strict conditions." He paused. "I vill, however, ask you to attempt to cast it. It is one of the more difficult Dark Curses, but Dark spells require complete mastery to be used effectively. If you know how to cast it, it vill be easier to resist."

"Am I going to have to imagine peeling off somebody's skin to cast this thing?" Harry asked wryly, raising an eyebrow. Krum hesitated.

"That vos how they taught us, yes."

"What are we even going to test it on?"

Ten minutes later, they stood outside, watching a rabbit hop happily around the clearing.

"...I hope no one was using that cup."

Krum raised his wand.

"Mors Ventis." The Bulgarian's brow furrowed, eyes narrowing and darkening. Sudden hate filled his eyes, and he snarled. "MORS VENTIS!"

Something in the air shifted, the clearing's atmosphere growing heavier, more oppressive...darker. Despite the clear light of the sun shining down on the snowy ground, it felt as if that light was traveling through a veil to get here, a shroud that only seemed to strengthen with the passing seconds. A chill that had nothing to do with the cold lifted Harry's hackles.

Slowly, as if reluctant, the winds began to gather in the middle of the clearing. Harry was mildly surprised that they had a color, a tattered gray similar to that of his Invisibility Cloak or a funeral shroud. The rabbit stopped, ears cocked, and turned as if to study the strange gusts of air. It was a fatal mistake.

The vortex began to move, and as it did so one of its outer edges brushed the rabbit. The effect was immediate; the rabbit let out a squeak of terror and bounded away, but even as it did so its hind legs began to shrivel off, fur and skin flaking away from the body in ever-increasing amounts, until it had all been stripped away. Blood burst from the wounds as the rabbit's furious motion only served to exacerbate the rate of blood loss, turning the snow crimson as chunks of meat sloughed off at a fantastic pace.

Soon, only bone remained, and without muscles capable of locomotion the rabbit fell into the snow, twitching as the curse worked over the rest of its body.

Harry watched the entire process, aghast.

This...this is true Dark Magic...how could they teach students - kids to do things like this?

He whirled on Krum, a demand for an explanation on his lips, but it died out as soon as he saw the other man's condition. The Bulgarian was gasping for air, face clenched and oddly pale, with his wand hand still outstretched but trembling hard.

"Whoa, Krum...are you all right?" Harry peered concernedly at Krum's eyes; they were almost completely dilated, the pupils barely visible.

Krum made no sound, instead swaying on his feet. Harry quickly steadied him before he could fall into the snow. "Hey, hey! Don't go dying on me yet. Oi, Saber! Gimme a hand!"

A streak of blue flashed out from the cabin, slamming the door so hard it rebounded against the adjacent wall. Saber appeared at Harry's side, quickly taking Krum from him and lifting the much-taller man over her shoulder without the faintest sign of straining.

"Take him inside, put him on the couch." Harry instructed. Saber responded with a curt nod, then darted through the still-swinging porch door.

The rabbit's corpse still lay in the snow, steaming in the frigid air. Harry padded up to it, watching as blood continued to flow, turning the pristine white an ugly red.

That...was horrible. And he wants me to cast it? It nearly knocked him out!

Finally, Harry realized this was the kind of thing he was going up against. Voldemort and his minions would not restrict themselves to just Stunners. This kind of spell would fit perfectly in the Death Eater's arsenal; he was lucky they hadn't already used it on him. There were certain to be more spells just as nasty as this one, and probably some even worse - why had the Ministry only branded three Curses as Unforgivable? This one was right up there with them, probably even worse since it looked as painful as the Cruciatus and killed just as surely as Avada Kedavra. Exactly what kind of place was Durmstrang where they taught teenagers how to use these curses?

Harry studied the sad, shrunken body for a few more moments, then turned on his heel and returned to the cabin.

Krum was lying on the couch when he returned, a cup of steaming coffee in one hand. Saber stood at his side, far enough away to give him space but close enough to intervene if something happened.

"Potter," Krum acknowledged him as Harry stepped through the door, "I apologize for that, and for not varning you of this possibility." He grimaced. "I forgot to mention the toll Dark Curses take on those who do not villingly give themselves to evil."

Harry sat down in one of the living room's armchairs, directly opposite from his companions, and frowned. "Wait...this kind of thing happens often?"

Krum nodded. "Magic relies heavily on emotion. To cast a Dark Spell requires you to experience the vilest of human emotions and to sink to the foulest depths of your psyche. Hate, lust, jealousy...all of these are integral to using the Dark Arts." He took in a shuddering breath, drawing Harry's attention to his still-bloodless face. "It is possible to cast the Dark Arts vithout giving in to the darkness, but it is very hard on those who vould do so. It is hard to maintain yourself, especially vith some of the darkest spells." He pulled himself up and leaned forward, dark eyes intent on Harry's. "The Unforgivables are not the vorst of the Dark Arts; not by far. They are the simplest of their kind, granting control, pain, and death, but those are simple. There are spells that turn their victims into shriveled-out husks, forcing them to experience every second of it, or stimulate the nervous system so that even the slightest breeze of air causes agony. I remember one spell that turned a man's blood to acid in his veins so that he screamed for days on end as his life vos eaten away by his lifeblood." He shuddered. "To cast these spells requires you to truly vant that to happen to your victim, to even revel in the pain that you cause vith your magic. It is...dangerous."

Harry sat quietly, then blurted out, "Why'd you agree to help me with this, then? You looked like you were about to drop back there." He looked down at his hands. "You're channeling your inner psychopath. That can't be healthy."

Krum croaked out a laugh. "It is not. Vhy do you think ve have Dark Vizards in the first place? Contrary to vhat Hermy-own-ninny might think, Durmstrang does not teach the Dark Arts to everyone. They view the Dark Arts as a tool, yes, but a tool in the hands of an idiot is a dangerous thing. They carefully observe all of the students, and only the strongest-willed, most skilled, and most determined are taught, but only after careful instruction never to use such arts vantonly."

"You haven't answered my question." Harry pointed out, but without rancor.

Krum shrugged, and Harry smiled unconsciously at the fast-becoming-familiar gesture. "You need everything to fight You-Know-Who. And you vill be doing the hard part. Ve must arm you vith all of our knowledge. Or these Dark Arts that we all loathe so much...they vill destroy everything ve hold dear, and everything others hold dear as vell. So ve vill study the arts of the enemy, so that ve may better destroy him."

"Heh." Harry's smile blossomed into a full-blown grin. "Hermione was right. You would have made a great Gryffindor."

Krum blinked. "She said that?" A pleased smile curved the hard lines of his mouth.

"Yep." Harry stood up and stretched. "Look, I know we're on a time-table and all, but I really don't want to try that spell right now-"

The Bulgarian held up a hand, forestalling him. "I understand. Read the books, perhaps practice your vandvork vith spells you feel more comfortable vith. I vould suggest vorking on your aim vith a human target." He looked at Saber. "Saber?"

"Of course." Harry gulped as her gaze swiveled to land firmly on him. "I expect your aim to be better this time, Harry. The head is a small target, but your spells are unlikely to be shifted by external conditions, so you have no excuse."

"Hey, on second thought, can we try practicing that curse-" Harry gabbled out, backing away from Saber.

Krum gave him a very deliberate look, then lay back down on the couch and closed his eyes. "I am tired."

"You bastard." The younger man muttered.

"Harry..."

"Okay, okay, I'm going! Sheesh, you'd think you wouldn't be thrilled about getting shot at-I'm going!"


Day Twenty (Ten Days Since Arrival)

"Ha, ha, ha..."

Legs pumping, Harry circled around the cabin, breath misting the frigid air. The morning sun cast beams of light down all around him, turning his temporary home into a shining spectacle of beauty that he would really have enjoyed under other circumstances.

"Continue, Harry." Saber encouraged, easily matching his stride. "You have only five more laps to complete."

Only five?

"There's...always those lovely...push-ups." Harry gasped out. "Oh...let's not forget the bar..."

"Of course we will not forget the bar." Saber sniffed. "It would be rude to ignore Viktor's work after he went to so much trouble to craft it."

Harry spared the time for a suspicious glance, or as suspicious as he could muster with his lungs feeling like they were about to shrivel up and die. "Since...when do you...call him Viktor?"

"Since he proved to be a worthy companion." Saber cast him an oblique look. "He is a good person, Harry."

"Really now," The Chosen One grumbled, but let the point drop. Of course Krum was a good person; Kingsley would never have let him in the Order, especially with his training in Dark Arts. Over the last few days, Harry had seen exactly why Hermione had enjoyed his company so much. The scowl that Krum wore may have been his default expression around say, fangirls, but in private he was a much different person. In the short time they had lived together Harry had seen the previously stoic Bulgarian Seeker smile, flush, and laugh far more frequently than ever before. It was a rather startling transformation from the grim young man who had once used the Cruciatus Curse on Cedric, albeit on orders from a Death Eater. For her part, Saber had developed a liking for their only other companion, her initial distrust of him fading away after they had settled in to the cabin.

Yes, Krum was a good person, but he was also a strict taskmaster, and so currently engaged in strenuous exercise; Harry was not much inclined to look kindly on the man who contributed to his torture.

After the eighth lap, he was finding it hard to hold his head up, as well as his legs feeling like someone had hit him with the Jelly-Legs Jinx. His breath, he noticed distantly, was coming in much harder gasps than before, so much so that it seemed the act of breathing itself was draining him.

"He is running out of steam." Hearing the familiar baritone, Harry directed a weak glare at its owner, who stood by the side of the cabin, watching his progress with crossed arms.

"Unfortunately," Saber agreed, still not winded in the slightest. "His stamina leaves much to be desired."

Krum tapped his chin with one finger. "I may have a solution." His wand appeared in his hand as if by magic, and Harry groaned at himself for even thinking of such a terrible pun. "Porcus."

And suddenly, the Chosen One found himself staring deep into bellicose, red-tinted eyes as a massive boar suddenly barred his way, intimidatingly-long tusks frighteningly close to his vulnerable, fleshy body.

"Motivation," Saber commented, "a valid tactic. I like it."

Harry gulped, taking one step backwards. "N-Nice piggy...Oink?" he offered tentatively.

The boar's red eyes narrowed, and it let out a very unamused snort. One hoof pawed the ground restlessly, and its hind legs tensed.

"Oh no..."

The boar charged. Harry yelled. And discovered that he had more strength in his legs than he had reckoned.

"You better stop him after five laps!" he shouted, just before the boar lunged and they both disappeared behind the cabin. Another loud, desperate curse could be heard, followed by a bestial grunt of porcine rage.

"Are you really going to stop it after five laps?" Saber asked the other wizard. "You did give your word."

"Of course." Krum declared. "Vhat, do you take me for a barbarian? I keep my promises."


Day Forty (Twenty Days Since Arrival)

"Crucio."

"Protego Depello!"

The painful tingling in his body subsided, but instead of pressing his attack, Harry whirled, swinging his practice blade outwards. It collided with another piece of wood with a clack as Saber appeared from thin air without warning. As her feet touched the ground the Boy-Who-Lived aimed an overhand cut at her head. Her own sword deflected the clumsy blow, sending his intended strike awry and forcing him to backpedal frantically.

"Cruentus Ignis-"

"Disruptis!" Harry barked out, twitching his wand hand and parrying a downward slash with his other hand almost simultaneously, though roughly. Saber's eyes narrowed as she slashed again and again, transitioning smoothly from one strike to the other, searching for weaknesses in his defenses or spots to create those weaknesses.

While he was holding up well, the practice sword was not suited for a one-handed grip, being a true, two-handed blade. He also lacked the power to hold off Saber's strokes with only one hand, and though the temptation to cast a spell at her was strong, the effort would be rewarded by an increase in the brutality of Saber's attacks. The situation needed to be changed up.

His wand fell from suddenly-loosened fingers, and as his opponent's attention was diverted by that for a split-second, he gripped his makeshift weapon with both hands, gritted his teeth, and met the assault squarely, concentrating furiously on each blow. Wood met wood again and again as the blades weaved an intricate and deadly dance, never pausing for more time than it took for them to thump together and separate.

Saber's strikes were powerful, fueled as they were by her inhuman strength, but she was not going even close to all out, and for that reason alone Harry's hard-won skill and strength were enough to keep her at bay for now.

Off to the side, wand held forgotten in his hand, Krum observed the two duelists as they stabbed, parried, dodged, and slashed. Though he was no swordsman, he was a very perceptive individual and could easily see the differences in the two fighters' styles.

Saber's was the more eye-catching; she was a whirlwind of motion, hitting fast and hard, always pressing forward without ever slowing. Each strike was textbook-perfect, executed without flaws and without hesitation.. Against her, most people would have been overwhelmed by now, unused to fighting a foe that defied all the laws of physics.

Potter, however, had been fighting her for more than a month now, for a good chunk of every day. While his own movements were still slow and awkward compared to the knight he faced, he compensated with precision and care, making sure that his limited reactions placed his blade in the areas that would count the most. He stoically weathered the storm of strikes unleashed by Saber, focusing mostly on stopping her attacks but occasionally managing his own offense. It was invariably parried or deflected, but the fact that he could even manage an attack through his beleaguered defense was an immense credit to him. Saber was fast and strong, but her attacks were guided largely by instinct, sharp and honed as it might be, and so Potter was able to survive, somehow.

Still, Saber had years and years of experience, backed up by her natural fighting talent, and when her superior physical attributes came into play there was only one way this could end, no matter how valiantly the last Potter fought.


Harry found himself on his back, again, a metal boot grinding painfully into his chest.

"Did-did I do better this time?" he managed.

Saber removed her foot and gripped his hand, pulling him to his feet. Though she said nothing, there was a faint gleam of pride in her eyes.

"Vell fought, my friends." Krum strode towards them, smiling. "That vos most impressive. You haff improved tremendously."

"I still didn't beat her." Harry pointed out.

"I have fought hundreds of battles, and out of all those only one man has ever managed to defeat me." Saber proclaimed. "I am not easy to kill, Harry, but you did well."

"I suppose it is good you shoot so high, but it is not realistic. Saber is obviously an exceptional warrior and her particular style makes her even deadlier, but you vere able to hold your own. Your strategy vos sound, and it vill only become more effective as your skills increase." Krum looked quite happy. "Ve are not struggling in vain."

"Thanks." Harry rubbed the back of his head, feeling embarrassed. "I know it couldn't be rewarding seeing me flounder over the last couple of days without any sign of improvement."

"Our plight is still grave, but this is heartening." Saber agreed. "Well done, Harry. That was almost half an hour."

"Yeah," Harry let out a breath, "I'm feeling every one of those seconds." His body ached tremendously, but it was a good pain, a pain that let him know he was accomplishing something. Behind him, tendrils of darkness began to creep forward as the sun descended in the evening sky. "Are we gonna do the rewind? I'm really, really beat."

"I would normally say aye, but you have earned your rest. Too much exertion can do more harm than it does help." Saber replied. Krum nodded his assent.

"Go and get some rest. Ve vill let this one day go." The Bulgarian jerked his head towards the cabin. "Tomorrow ve vill resume our exercises."

"Am I still going to be chased by the boar?" Harry jested, even as he trudged back towards the building.

"No, at this level you vould either curse it to death or kill it vith splinters by thrusting your sword up its mouth." Krum nodded to Saber. "She vill be taking over that duty."

Harry just groaned, not even able to muster a protest, and walked away.

Sleep now, face sadistic teachers later.

Once the cabin door slammed, Krum turned away, looking out into the lengthening night. The shadows were bolder now, no longer creeping but flowing brazenly forward as the light vanished.

"A fitting metaphor." He had not meant to speak out loud, but the words had slipped out regardless.

"For our situation? Yes, but it is not as bleak as all that." Saber moved up beside him, dress rippling in a sudden gust of wind. For practice purposes she had chosen not to manifest her armor.

"No," he agreed, "ve are getting somevhere, though I haff no idea vhere ve are going, nor vhere ve haff been." He quirked an eyebrow at her. "Do you?"

"I have ascertained that your magecraft is nothing like that I know of." She replied. "I do not know how, but somehow Harry is supplying me with the full amount of prana I require, with no cost to himself."

Krum did a double-take, then shrugged. It was not what he had asked, but he decided to go along with it.

"I know nothing about 'prana', but it is possible that you haff established a direct link vith his magical core, and so are provided vith his magic." Krum frowned. "But usually vhen a core is compromised like that it has catastrophic effects on the vizard...Potter has certainly suffered no ill effects, so I do not believe that is the case."

Saber shrugged. "We have no means to discover the cause, and frankly there are more pressing matters to take our attention. Perhaps when this is over I will seek an answer, but for now..."

"Yes." Evening had given way to full dusk, and now he could barely see his companion, making out only the gleam of her armor and the swaying blond strands of her hair. "The present is enough for us now, vithout considering the future."

Silence fell between the two, a comfortable one that did not require words to fill the void. Krum smiled to himself; to think that he would be so comfortable around the walking enigma that was Saber seemed absurd, and yet not as much as what he found himself immersed in.

"What amuses you?"

So much for the silence.

"This entire situation." he answered honestly. "It is frankly something out of an epic fantasy. A young boy vith the veight of the vorld on his shoulders coming into his own, an evil to be vanquished...ve vizards are taught not to get carried away in such fancies. My old professor vould have a coronary if he could see me now."

"Let us hope it has the ending most of those fantasies do." Saber smiled; though still rare, it had a way of occurring more often lately. "I believe at least some of us deserve that."

"Mm," Krum nodded.

Quiet enveloped the clearing again.


Day Sixty-Two (Thirty-One Days Since Arrival)

"This-" Harry panted, "is not working."

Saber padded across the snow to the tree that now sported a new branch, even now quivering in the trunk. A hard pull freed the weapon from the bark and she tossed it back to her student, who caught it reflexively.

"Practice more, then." She said firmly. "That is the only remedy for sloppy technique."

"It's not the technique, Saber." Harry retorted, stung that she would say something like that. Well, it was true his moves were not perfect, but that was not the problem. "I'm just not suited to your style."

"Nonsense," Saber returned. Despite the calm in her tone, Harry distinctly saw one fine eyebrow twitch, "if I learned how to utilize it, then you should be able to as well."

"You were trained for it!" Harry hated the petulant tone his voice took on; it sounded as if he were making excuses. "For the first eleven years of my life I was fed leftovers, when my uncle decided I couldn't go another day without requiring him to pay for a hospital bill." Seeing his teacher look unimpressed, he redoubled his efforts. "Look, Saber: your fighting style is basically to hammer the guy into the ground through sheer force delivered through mind-blowing speed. I'm assuming you did this while you were alive, too, so it can't be just because of your Servant power. I get that. But me-" he waved one arm wildly, "I can't do that. I'm not a wall of muscle. I'm kind of skinny and not all that buff. Malnutrition doesn't help. We don't have time to turn me into Hercules. I'm sure you know another style, you kind of have to, so maybe-"

The barely-perceptible hardening in her eyes cut him off as surely as if she had yelled at him. "If you spent as much time practicing the techniques as you did fabricating excuses you would certainly be at my level by now."

A pit seemed to open in Harry's stomach as he watched her walk away, boots thumping against the ground. "S-Saber! Wait!" She gave no sign that she had heard, vanishing into the cabin with the click of the door against its frame.

Harry suddenly wanted nothing more than to sit down and put his head in his hands. "Shit," he murmured to himself, "what have I done now?"

"Back home, had you injured a voman like that, her father, brothers, and husband vould have all clamored to duel you for impugning her honor."

The shadow intersecting his was just as much a clue as that familiar accent, tinged with barely-suppressed humor.

"Shut up, Krum. I'm really not in the mood."

"Saber does not much care for excuses, no matter how vell-founded they might be." The other man carried on as if Harry had not spoken. "You are going to haff to prove it to her, beyond a shadow of a doubt."

The Gryffindor snorted, lifting his head to give Krum a sardonic stare. "Where do you figure that from?"

"Simply from living vith her for two months." The Bulgarian regarded him with an amused look in his eyes. "Vhat exactly is the problem, Potter? You seemed to hold up against her vell enough two weeks ago."

"Yeah, but that's part of the reason I couldn't do it longer." Harry noted with surprise that the sallow man seemed to be genuinely listening to him. "Right, I'm not stupid. Saber can get away with that kind of approach because she's both extremely fast, extremely strong, and small at that so she can throw her weight around even more quickly. She's also got enough experience fighting people that even if someone tries to adapt to her style and push her back, she can probably deal with that easily because in all of her years of fighting it's likely she's seen that before. We won't even consider the whole boost in power Servant-hood gives her, but I think that's a pretty good summary right there."

Krum simply nodded. Emboldened, Harry continued.

"I, on the other hand, have a lifetime of not eating well to deal with." Again, Harry cringed at the sound of his words; the abuse the Dursleys had heaped on him had never been a problem before when he spoke of it, but now it sounded like a weak attempt at avoiding physical exertion. No wonder Saber was mad. "I'm also naturally skinny, and not particularly tall either so I can't use that as leverage against an opponent. I didn't exercise much besides Qudditch, so I don't have a lot of stamina. If I try her kind of charge against a Death Eater, he'll throw a curse or two to make me blink, maybe Apparate a few times, and then I'm out of breath, can't pursue him, and he can just blast me with the Killing Curse and I'm done." He shook his head, suddenly tired and wanting to just flop into the snow. "There's also the issue that she's making me use a two-handed sword, which doesn't leave room for my wand. It's not working, Krum. It just isn't."

He felt the Bulgarian's hawk-like stare linger on him for another moment, then the Seeker rose abruptly and left, crunching the snow as he ascended the steps back into their home.

Alone now, Harry finally gave in to his weariness and let himself slide down into the snow, falling onto his back and gazing up at the impossibly-blue sky.

Ugh...

The practice sword was still in his hand, the leather grip comfortably rough against his skin. He brought it up against the backdrop of the sky, noting the tell-tale cracks and pits in its surface where it had clashed against its twin. Harry remembered dimly that Transfigured objects had a tendency to pale in durability compared to the real things; only skilled wizards could create exact copies. Harry had no experience to judge, but he was pretty certain Krum was one of them. Some of the blows Saber had rained down would have cracked his skull, but the sword was holding up better than a piece of wood should have.

Better, arguably, than he was.

What if this whole thing is pointless? Here I am, trying desperately to learn years and years' worth of magic in months, as well as attempting to master a fighting style that takes at least a decade to do so. What's worse is that I'm not even very good at it. Damnit! If the world is still depending on us the world is well and truly f-

His bitter reverie was so consuming, the emotions and thoughts raging around in his head so powerfully, that he did not notice the practice sword being taken from his grip, nor the flash and accompanying sounds of matter being twisted into a new shape.

"Here."

Harry jerked, thoughts derailed, as the practice blade landed on his chest. He picked it up, and immediately realized that it was no longer a replica of the two-handed longsword Saber favored. Though still the same general shape, the overall weapon was slightly shorter, with the hilt having been shrunk until there was only enough room for one hand to grasp it. As for the blade, it had apparently been compressed, becoming narrower and more pointed at its tip.

"What's this?"

"Your new veapon." Krum grunted. "Get up, Potter. I do not like leaning over you."

Bemusedly, he humored his teacher and lifted himself out of the snow, shaking off the bits that still clung to his clothes. "Can I get a little more detail?"

"It is an arming sword. Saber suggested it for you, after I vos able to convince her of the validity of your arguments. It only requires the use of one hand, so your vand hand is free." Seeing Harry's look of astonishment, Krum waved a hand irritably. "I did not do you a favor. She expects you to train even harder now to prove you vere not just blowing steam. In fact," he gave the Boy-Who-Lived an oblique look, "it might even be harder for you. Most of your sparring sessions do not involve your vand, so you are going to have to fight off Saber vith only one hand."

Harry felt a smile twitch the corners of his mouth up. "As long as I don't have to use strength and speed I don't have, I think I'll be fine."

The Bulgarian turned to look contemplatively up at the sky. "Saber is not ignorant of the threat ve face, but she did not fully grasp that you vould not be fighting enemies who favored close-combat, but opportunistic, back-stabbing cowards who vill try to kill you from far away. Your main weapon is your vand, not your sword, but it vill come in handy nevertheless."

Harry swung the practice sword in a test arc, already feeling the difference. Though of course the wooden weapon would never be as heavy as its metal template, he could tell the arming sword would be lighter than the longsword; perhaps not by much, but it would be easier to maneuver.

The crunch of breaking snow caught his attention, and he looked up in time to see Krum making his way back to the cabin for the second time.

"Hey." The Bulgarian looked back at him. "Thanks." Krum twitched his head in a nod, and then disappeared into the house.

Harry looked again at his new weapon; the previous longsword was similar enough to this that adjustments would probably be minor, but still significant enough to require practice.

Might as well start right now, right?

Almost immediately he was confronted by quite a major difference: Saber's ready stance took one of two forms, either with the sword held in front of her in both hands, the tip angling towards the opponent, or down at her side with the blade parallel to the ground and her side turned towards her enemy. The latter felt extremely awkward with only one hand to grip the sword, and he had a sneaking suspicion any blows executed with that kind of stance would be weak and unbalanced. A shift to the former yielded a more natural feel, but even here his left hand felt strange without anything to hold. He settled for only a minor change to the position, with his left hand held in front of him as if for grappling; in real battle it would hold his wand but this would do for now.

When he began his regular routine of cuts and thrusts, it became steadily apparent that he would have to adjust his movements substantially. The two-handed grip of the longsword provided more finesse and also allowed for stronger blows, but suffered a limited range of motion compared to its one-handed counterpart. The arming sword, in contrast, benefited from a greater freedom due to its place in only one hand. While it seemed more suited to cutting than thrusting, despite its narrow point, it could do both reasonably well. As he swung the blade in a horizontal cut before twitching it into a downward stroke that would have hamstrung his opponent, Harry noted that his new weapon was arguably more suited to the cobbled-together, mishmash of moves that constituted his 'style'.

You know, the only people I'll really be fighting with this thing are probably the vampires and the werewolves...crap.

Harry could not help a shudder. The memory of Remus transforming into a slavering beast intent on death and carnage had never truly left him, though he had managed not to consciously associate it with his teacher.

Ugh...my wand is my best bet against Greyback and his mates.

With that cheery thought in mind, he threw himself back into the routine, finding with dismay that he seemed so much clumsier than ever before. What hasty training he had received was almost exclusively for the use of a two-handed sword.

I've got my work cut out for me.


Day Seventy (Thirty-Five Days Since Arrival)

Harry was eating toast and absently flipping through one of Remus' textbooks (reading and doing something else was surprisingly easy once you got the hang of it) when a knock on the door told him Krum was back. He rose from the table, putting down his book, and went to answer the door.

"Hey. Find anything interesting?"

Krum held out a newspaper. "Other than this, no. Lower Yorkham is not the most active of places; they do not seem to care about current events much."

After the first month's worth of time the Time-Turner had given them, Krum had begun to make infrequent but random sojourns out of the cabin. He claimed it was to keep track of what day it was and to keep aware of the area around them, but Harry suspected it was just a way to get out of the cramped area. He could not blame him, either. It was pretty weird seeing your past selves walk around.

It was actually pretty simple; everyone knew about the Time-Turners, so interactions were limited strictly to strained greetings and then Harry and his companions would do his best to stay the hell out of the other three's way. Fortunately, Krum had designed the training regimen so that half the day was spent inside studying theory, while the other half was undertaken outside, exercising and engaging in practical spellwork. They would simply switch spaces when it was time, so they actually saw very little of their doppelgangers.

Doesn't mean it isn't weird as hell.

Harry took the newspaper and scanned it idly as he returned to his seat. The news was pretty much what he had come to expect; the Ministry was still offering rewards to his whereabouts, Muggles continued to die in 'unexplained accidents', and there were increased reports of giants, vampires, and other unsavory creatures migrating from their chosen abodes.

"He is gathering an army, yes." Krum slouched over to join him. "For what purpose, I do not know; he currently rules Britain in all but name. Perhaps he is readying for assaults against other countries."

"We need to stop him before he gets that far." Harry folded up the paper and left it next to his plate. "But we still have no idea where or what the other Horcruxes might be."

"I believe Dumbledore's reasoning was sound; You-Know-Who vould have vanted only the most prestigious of objects to house his soul. Vith the diary, the ring, and the locket destroyed, he only has three left. You said Dumbledore believed one vas the snake, Nagini, and another vas a cup belonging to Hufflepuff. That would leave one more, vhich ve do not know. Their locations, however, are another matter..." Krum sat down heavily, placing his wand on the table beside him. "You are certain one is in Hogwarts; ve can be equally certain the snake vill alvays be vith him. Vhere vould the other one be..." he paused, brow furrowed. "Hmm...vhere vould he put something so valuable that he could be certain it vould be safe?"

"A safe place..." Harry murmured, half-forgotten words ringing in his memory.

Gringotts is the safest place in the Wizarding World! 'Cept Hogwarts, 'course...

"Gringotts," he blurted out, "it's at Gringotts."

A slight widening of the eyes was Krum's only indication that he was surprised. "...That vould make sense. It is extremely difficult to penetrate the vaults vithout being caught. Yes, I think you are right."

"How are we gonna get in there?" Harry leaned back against his chair gloomily. "We're not exactly equipped to break into a normal bank, let alone Gringotts."

"You are not utilizing all our resources." Krum chided, shaking a finger at him. "Ve haff Saber on our side, who is immune to magic. I doubt they haff anything that could stop us, especially on such short notice. And there is not only her, but also you," here he gestured at himself, "and I. Ve are not completely incompetent in the arts of combat, especially after these two months of training. With these advantages and the fact that they vill not be expecting us, ve are better equipped than you realize."

"He'll know we're on to him then." Despite his protest, Harry was beginning to warm to the idea. After all this running and hiding, it felt good to contemplate the idea of a strike back against the enemy.

"He vould haff to catch on some time." Krum shrugged. "Still, once he does it vill be difficult to continue our training. I vould suggest ve take some more time to brush up on your skills. Two weeks should be sufficient; that is probably all the time we can spare."

Harry nodded. "I've memorized most of the spells from Remus' books, and used them often enough in our duels. I think I've gotten most of those Mediwizard spells down too, for the most common injuries. As for the Dark Arts," he grimaced, "well...I'm as prepared as I can be. I can cast the Deathwind Curse, which by the way is really unpleasant, and throw off the effects of what you can hit me with most of the time. Transfiguration seems to be the hard part; I can't always finish the transformation."

"You haff learned quickly, it is true." Krum nodded. "However, Transfiguration is perhaps the hardest of these arts; my personal experience vas that it always required more time and practice than the others. Fortunately, I should be able to make up the difference."

"I don't want to rely on you, though. This is my fight-"

"Not only yours." The Bulgarian flicked an impatient hand at his student. "It is ours just as much as yours, and I vill do my best to make up for any shortcomings you might have. That is teamwork, no?" Dark brown eyes glared into bright green. "Put your hero complex away, Potter. This is bigger than you."

Harry managed a smile. "Sorry."

Sorry, Viktor. I can't agree with you. This isn't bigger than me, it's exactly as big as me. He tried to kill me, and still is. This is all because of me, but not for any longer. No one else is going to die for me. Not if I can help it.

Krum's hawk-eyed stare lingered on him for a moment, as if not fully believing him, then the Bulgarian's gaze shifted to something behind him.

"Hello, Saber. Is it time already?"

Harry turned, his stomach sinking in his chest.

"Yes, it is." Metal clinked against metal as Saber strode through the doorway, a practice blade in each hand. "You have been doing well, Harry. Show me that it is not just a trick of fate."

Harry gulped, wondering if he might not try a spot of Disapparation right then and there. Damnit, is there an anti-Disapparation Charm on the grounds? I can't remember...

"Yes, there is." Krum's eyes glinted. "I vould not advise attempting to do so."

In return he received an emerald glare, before the Chosen One's shoulders slumped and he accepted the wooden blade from his partner.

"One of these days, I'll get you back for this." he threatened, as he followed Saber out through the door. Krum snorted, then pulled the textbook across the table and began to flip through it.

"Try it," he called back, as the door closed, "and I vill turn you into a toad."


The snow crunched beneath a booted foot as he pivoted, cutting an imaginary foe in two with one hack of his blade. Harry kept moving - "Never stand still, Harry, that is the fastest way to die" - , pressing forward past the nonexistent body and working the wooden blade through a series of basic cuts. His left hand still hung awkwardly in the air, but he managed to keep it steady, at least.

He transitioned to a more complicated move: a downward left cut that flicked into a rightward slash, which in turn segued into a spinning horizontal swing. His balance was off; he could tell that immediately. The move was an improvisation, a hasty addition cobbled together from the brief times he'd seen Saber fight, and even as he swept into the move he dismissed the thought of keeping it in his arsenal.

Good luck trying to fight like Saber, you nimrod. Didn't you waste a bunch of words trying to tell her you couldn't-

Suddenly, pain surged in his forehead, so unexpectedly that the sword fell from slack fingers. Both hands flew to his scar, but the pain continued, a searing blaze that burned so hot he thought his head would melt-

-And he was looking again for the blonde-haired thief, who had stolen his prize from Gregorovitch, but where had he gone and what had happened to the most powerful of wands? His frustration was spreading, and he could feel the power inside him, different from his magic, react to him, eager to do his bidding-

-the pain was spreading through his body now, setting his nerves alight, distantly Harry registered that this had never happened before but the pain was too great, focus was impossible-

-and now he stared into the eyes of the boy once more, Bellatrix sobbing at his feet, and even more than the galling loss of the prophecy was the burning need to know what this mongrel had stolen from him-

-the fire was consuming his body, every inch of it was screaming in agony, he could not help it, he threw his head back and screamed, long and loud-

- He watched in dissatisfaction as the wind reached a howling pitch, but the tornado that he had once been able to summon was beyond him. What had once distinguished him from the masses of other wizards had lessened; it was still there but diminished, and he had no idea what it was or how to go about restoring it-

"Harry!"

-but wait...he was somewhere else now, lying in the snowy ground, looking out as a blond-haired woman charged towards him, wearing a breastplate and armored plates situated on her dress, and he realized he was looking through the boy's eyes now. Exultation seared through him; there was the boy! He reached out, taking control of the boy's body-

-Harry felt his lips part; desperately, he tried to keep them together, but the presence in his mind was too strong and he is mine I will destroy him say the name say it say it-

"VOLDEMORT!"

Someone was carrying him through the air, and suddenly he was Harry again, tired, sweating, with a hollow feeling in his stomach that worsened as he realized exactly what had happened. He felt his back hit the soft cushions of the couch, and looked up to see worried green eyes staring down at him.

"Harry, what happened-"

"He knows," he blurted out, before she could finish. "He found his way into my mind- made me scream his name - and now he knows where we are."

To her credit, Saber simply nodded sharply before turning and shouting, "Viktor! We must be away!" The Bulgarian Seeker's only reply was a grunt, before a call of "Accio Books."

Saber turned back to her Master, regarding him carefully. "How is he pursuing us?"

"He can fly," Harry gasped out, "without a broom or anything. I'm assuming just as fast."

"Is it your scar?" Krum asked, walking over as plates continued to fly into the bag he was holding. Harry could only nod. "So he knows vhere ve are...hmm, this could be troubling if he is able to peer into your mind like that-"

"Can we discuss that later?" The Chosen One snapped. "We need to go!"

Krum's brow furrowed but he obeyed, turning back to summon more of the paraphernalia of life into the seemingly-inexhaustible bags he carried. "I believe your training is over, then. Ve might as well put our plans into place."

"Yeah, as soon as we lose him." Harry replied. "You got the map? We'll pick one and go." In answer, the older man tossed him the piece of parchment, which he unrolled and held out in front of him. "Right, we're here in the mountains, so we can do some Apparation to throw him off our trail; then we can head for here-"


"Stupefy-"

"Ventus!"

A howling gust of wind swept the Death Eater off his broom; he fell with a scream. Harry ignored the momentary pang of guilt as Krum threw the Firebolt into a hurtling dive to avoid a steady stream of sapphire light that blasted past them, resonating with an unearthly thrum. Behind him came the tell-tale sounds of magic expending itself uselessly on inhuman power as Saber absorbed the spells meant for them.

As they leveled out, two Death Eaters came alongside them. Harry raised his wand, but Krum was quicker; the first Death Eater yelled in shock as shadows rippled over his face. He fell back, clawing at the spell in mindless panic, while the other fired off a pair of Stunners. Even hampered by the weight of two passengers, Krum easily sideslipped the spells, before twitching his wand. The Death Eater rose off his broom, arms windmilling wildly, before Krum flicked his wand to the right and his victim plummeted to the ground, screaming.

The Bulgarian returned the Firebolt to full speed, casually taking the broom through several loops and twists to dodge more curses. Even with deadly spells flying around him, Harry had to admire his companion's skill; the broom was an extension of him, not just something he sat on.

For some reason, Voldemort himself had not yet appeared, and though it raised troubling questions what he was doing, right now Harry was all too happy for the Dark Lord to be somewhere else. He had enough on his plate right now.

"We gotta lose them!" he shouted into Krum's ear.

"Vhat vould you suggest?" the Seeker returned, and though his voice could barely be heard above the heavy air currents Harry thought he detected exasperation.

They had actually managed to get on Krum's broom (Harry felt a twinge of envy that the other Seeker still had his) and fly at least two miles away from the cottage before the inevitable storm of Death Eaters had arrived, a dozen in black cloaks and silver masks. Between them, Harry and Krum had taken down five of them, but the other seven showed no sign of slowing the pursuit.

"I dunno, some kind of tornado to knock them down?" Harry bellowed back. "You know anything like that?"

In response, Krum simply turned back and shouted a word that Harry did not catch, flicking his wand like a maestro conducting an orchestra. Towards the sky, to the ground, across the horizon, the wand moved quickly and deftly, until just as it seemed the maneuvers would never stop, Krum slashed it through the air in front of him and shouted again.

Harry twisted around just in time to see torrents and torrents of water appear from nowhere and dump down upon the Death Eaters with the force of a typhoon. It was as if they had been blasted with a hose from a fire truck; the entire strike force was simply swatted from the air and lost height rapidly, regardless of whether or not they were still on their brooms.

"Son of a -"

"God's name-"

Both his and Saber's oaths were interrupted when the Firebolt went into an alarming nose-dive. Wind blasted past his face, and his glasses were almost wrenched from their perch.

"The hell-?"

The cause was obvious; Krum was slumped over the broom, and though his face was not visible it was obvious he was struggling to keep them aloft.

"Krum, you all right?"

"No," the response was almost inaudible, "but I vill live. Ve must land, I cannot continue flying."

With that, the Firebolt dipped, slowing rapidly as the blurring landscape of trees and rocks below did likewise. A clearing made itself visible and Harry felt the shift in direction as Krum angled their broom towards it. The Bulgarian swayed; Harry hooked one arm around the sallow man's waist and pulled back, propping him up.

"Hang on there." With the altitude dropping rapidly and the winds proportionally decreasing, it was no longer necessary to scream. "Can you still travel?"

"Ve have no choice." Krum's voice trembled with fatigue. "Ve may haff lost them for now, but they vill gather again. Ve-" he coughed, "must continue to the safe-house."

The Firebolt touched down at last, hovering above the ground, and Harry caught his companion before the older man could pitch onto the dirt. Krum sagged into Harry's arms, trying to pick himself up.

"Good god, what did you do?"

"There is a Transfiguration spell...to turn air to water...I haff never used it in such strength before..." Krum gasped out. "I vill not do that again anytime soon." Finally, he managed to stand, waving off Harry's ready arms. "Ve must go."

"Are you sure?" Saber inquired, still perched on the floating Firebolt. "You do not seem in condition for another flight."

"Potter can do it." Krum grunted. "He is perhaps the only vizard I know who can match me on a broom."

Having seen exactly what the Bulgarian Seeker was capable of, even under intense fire and burdened by two other people, Harry was inclined to disagree. He opened his mouth, then thought better of it.

Hey, it's a compliment, right? He's probably right anyway; I think I can do that.

He took a step towards the Firebolt. Three things happened at once.

First, a streak of black light struck the hovering broom, consuming it in a sudden shower of flame and splintering bits of wood. Saber, still astride the stick, vanished in the inferno.

Second, another streak hurled itself at him, and before he could even bring his wand up Krum had shouted something and deflected the curse with a snap of his wrist.

Third, something struck Harry from his feet with the force a giant's hand and threw him across the clearing with bone-jarring force. He felt his body hit the ground and bounce; once, twice, a third time, and he caught a glimpse of a tree trunk rushing towards him.

Oh shi-

The sound of his head making contact with the tree was incredibly unpleasant, even before the sensation of pain added itself to the equation. His vision grayed out, and splitting pain shot through his head. He dimly felt himself rebound off the tree and fall like a rag doll to the ground. One of his hands struck a rock and gashed itself on a sharp edge.

For a moment he simply lay there, wind knocked out of him and a raccoon gnawing on his brain, listening idly to the strange noises that found their way to his ears. There was something important about them, he knew that, but for some reason he could not remember what, nor could he really bring himself to care. It hurt too much to think.

"Potter! Get the hell up!" Krum's strain-filled shout was followed by a grunt of pain.

Memory slammed back with the force of a freight train, immediately making the headache inconsequential. They were in trouble, deep trouble. His hand groped in his robes for his wand. Panic shot through him when the familiar wood handle failed to manifest.

"Damnit, where is it-" His elbow brushed against something hard, and he grabbed at it instinctively, recognizing the feel of the object immediately.

That was stupid. It was right there!

Now properly armed, he leaped up and charged headlong towards the remains of the burning broom.

"Krum-"

The scene that met his eyes stopped him cold.

Krum was slumped next to the steadily-blazing bonfire, clutching the stump of his severed wrist in his other hand. The amputated hand lay next to him, wand still clutched in rapidly-paling fingers. Blood was pumping steadily from his stump, shining black in the flames' light.

Not far away, Saber was moving like a tempest, raw power and force wrapped in chains of iron control but expressed in grace and precision. She spun, twirled, leaped and rolled, Excalibur slashing through air and bursts of magic equally easily. Any mortal opponent would have been utterly vanquished within the first few seconds of her assault.

But her opponent was holding up just fine, Apparating in sharp cracks to avoid the storm in Saber's hands. The very earth was responding to his commands, rising up to entrap the king of knights' legs in prisons of stone and granite, or sinking down underneath her armored boots into pools of sticky and encumbering mud. White lightning rained down upon her and black flames pelted her armor, detonating in puffs of shadow that dissipated as soon as they touched her. None of it had any discernable effect on the Servant, but the rain of power showed no sign of stopping any time soon and when he caught a glimpse of the pale-as-marble face and red-slitted eyes, Harry knew why.

"Shit," he breathed.

"Indeed," Krum's voice was a shadow of its usual robust self, thin and filled with pain. "they are equally matched. Perhaps ve should simply let her dispose of him now." His stump had stopped bleeding, probably because of a spell, and he had shoved his hand into a pocket. Harry was briefly struck by a morbid desire to laugh, but decided that now was really not the time.

Watching Saber now, he was actually tempted to agree with Krum. She pressed Voldemort back, heedless of his skill and power. For probably the third time in his life, the Dark Lord was on the defensive, summoning the wrath of heaven and earth just to keep from being bisected by the howling wind. Even from a distance, it was clear only all of his concentration was keeping Saber at bay. One misstep would be his downfall. Even if he did just turn into a mutilated shadow of his former self, it would be vastly more easy to confine him, and it would be sufficient to imprison him until they could find and destroy the last of his Horcruxes. Then it would be his turn.

"Or not." At his side, Krum suddenly rose, gesturing sharply. The movement catching his attention, Harry swiveled to the right. Through the slowly-deepening shadows of twilight, he could see even darker shadows flitting through the glowing sky and while their progress did not seem to be particularly fast they were nevertheless closing at an alarming rate. A chill began to creep up his spine, and when he lifted a hand to his forehead, the skin was just as cold and starting to feel somewhat clammy.

"Dementors," he whispered. "Crap."

"Not only that," Krum lifted a hand to point to the left. Harry turned again, and with a groan saw more black-clad figures, this time all mounted on brooms and closing just as swiftly.

"Yeah, no. We can't do this. We need to go."

"My thoughts exactly. Ve are, however, novhere near the safehouse. Ve vill have to Apparate to throw them off our trail. Call back Saber."

"Okay-"

The ground rumbled, interrupting their conversation, and both wizards pivoted just to see a massive chunk of rock slam into Saber and throw her towards them at incredible speed.

"Sisto!" Krum's spell halted the errant knight, and she dropped to the ground once more, emerald eyes ablaze. One foot dug into the dirt in preparation for a bounding leap, and Harry slapped one hand onto her shoulder, halting her.

"No, Saber! We have to go now!" He nodded to Krum, who stepped close, gripping Harry's shoulder with his good hand and wrapping his bad arm around Saber's waist, who struggled in his grip.

"A true knight does not run from battle-"

"Then it's good two of us are wizards, right?" Harry snapped. He could feel the bitter chill that signified the closing proximity of the dementors, and his hand itched to cast a Patronus. "Come on, Krum!"

A howl of rage cut through the clearing like the blade of a knife, and with a sinking heart Harry saw the tall, black-shrouded form of Voldemort hurtle towards them, wand-hand outstretched and teeth bared in a rictus grin. He started, wand coming up, but before he could cast a spell Krum let out a pained grunt and the world disappeared.

The town is silent, with only the smell of blood drifting over its filthy streets. Once five hundred people lived here, a bustling, yet cozy collection of colorful characters who bonded over shared dinners and monthly events. It had been a cheerful place, where people helped each other and no one ever went hungry if the town could help it.

And now, in place of laughter and joy, there is only the unnatural stillness of death.

He does not know why he came to this place, nor why he killed everyone who called it home; he has long ceased to care. He was not hungry, nor did his beasts require nourishment. It was nothing but a whim, for is he not Chaos, the embodiment of random, never-ceasing change? He is no longer human, nor truly vampire. He has ascended and become a force of nature.

And he enjoys it.

He often wonders what will happen to him; the chaos that composes him should, theoretically, eventually break down into a formless mass in which nothing of the man once known as Fabro Rowan, nor of the vampire Nrvnsqr Chaos will remain. Such a thought does not bring him anxiety; in fact he looks forward to it, to seeing the ultimate expression of his chaos. After all, immortality was his goal, and this is another way of obtaining it.

A flare of power disrupts his musing, and he notices prana, bright, clean energy that flows steadily, more than an ordinary magus can possibly possess. The senses of his beasts show him its source; the power is emanating from a valley some distance from this town.

It is nothing more than a whim that rouses him from his blood-reverie, to seek out this strange source of prana. Indeed, he has no thoughts for what it might be or why it has come here; no burning curiosity or cold reason drives him. He will go because he wants to, nothing more.

That is Chaos.