Name: Puppeteers
Rating: NC-17/M
Warnings: Graphic Violence, Bad Language
Author's Note: This is where it starts to get really dark and angsty and stuff. Yes, there will be a lot of death in this fic. You have been warned.

Chapter 6 – Beginning of the End

Pavle – or, as he was better known to the majority of his associates, Severus Snape, didn't even break stride upon approaching the regal gates that closed the driveway of an impressive manor house. He simply stretched out his left arm, and the gate turned to black smoke as soon as he touched it, only to solidify again behind him. He smirked – most of it was show, but he had to admit that it looked pretty cool. After all, there was nothing wrong with a little show – he'd be a hypocrite if he said that, considering his cape-billowing charm that he used to intimidate the little brats that he so hated to teach. All right, there his goal was to spread fear, whereas this enchantment was probably designed to make people feel awed instead of afraid, but you couldn't deny the similarities.

His black boots – black like everything that he was wearing, except for the white skull mask, though he wasn't exactly wearing that, he just had it in his right hand – crunched softly on the small pebbles which were the driveway to the luxurious Malfoy Manor that lay sprawled in front of him. He idly wondered exactly why a magical manor would have a driveway – it's not like people were coming in the car, but after a few seconds it made sense – visitors would be forced to walk along the driveway, as Anti-Apparation wards extended up to the gate itself, which gave them both an opportunity to be suitably impressed by the Malfoy wealth and to remind them of their inferiority towards to the Manor Lords, who were not bound be these restrictions, which immediately created somewhat of a divide, with the Malfoys sitting comfortably on top. He snorted – typical Lucius. That attitude was exactly why he hated the blonde ponce so much, even though he didn't show it. Well, that and his attempt to rape him in third year, but the less said and thought about that, the better, Snape thought.

The tall, dark green doors, decorated with the Malfoy crest, swung open silently as he approached, and his lips curled upward in a sneer. Another parlour trick to impress visitors, no doubt, not that it was a particularly difficult one, mind you. All you needed were two house elves, waiting behind the doors, and there you were. He strode through the regal hallways, made of black and dark green marble, until he came to another set of doors. This one didn't open on its open, so he pushed it open, using the silver knocker in the mouth of the snake carved into the wood of the door.

Behind the door was a meeting wrong of sorts, though he recognized that, before the Dark Lord had taken residence here, it had been the dining room. At the far end, behind the Dark Lord himself a small fireplace was burning, just as two others, to his left and to his right were. They offered the sole sources of light of the room, making the large room look even bigger than it in reality was, due to the elongated shadows that they cast all over the place. Rather close to the door through which he had entered, he saw the low-ranked Death Eaters, obviously sitting further from their master than those that had already gained his favour – or, to be more accurate, had not yet lost their favour with the master, like that filthy rat Wormtail, Snape's stuck-up bratty godson that was more Gryffindor than Ronald Weasley had been and his mother, who looked quite beautiful in the light, as her ever-present sneer wasn't visible in the low light the room offered. He eyed Wormtail with disgust, but gave both Narcissa and Draco a courteous nod. Not that he actually cared – there wasn't a single person inside this room that he didn't loathe with every fibre of his being – but it was expected of him, especially since Lucius'... unfortunate demise.

Voldemort lazily pointed to the seat at his right, indicating for Snape to sit there, so he passed the long table on the side without Bellatrix and took his seat, not dignifying any of the other Death Eaters with any visible reaction. Only when he had taken his seat did Voldemort ask him for any news in Dumbledore's camp – he was obviously interested in Dumbledore's theories on the 'Tom', the wizard that had forced the Dark Lord to retreat in Diagon Alley two ago, though nobody knew if that was because he was clueless himself or if he merely wanted to verify his suspicions, and it was better for their continued health that nobody asked, either.

Like he had discussed with Nero, he held nothing back and told the Dark Lord about Dumbledore's theories that the person in question was Harry Potter. While most of the Death Eaters didn't seem to put too much stock into that suggestion, Voldemort didn't dismiss it, and Snape knew why, though, in the Dark Lord's camp, only he and Voldemort knew the particular reason: the prophecy. Since it did designate Potter as the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord, it was not really that much a leap. Avery's exclamation of "My Lord, surely no mere teenager, and a half-blood at that, could defeat you in a duel!" therefore earned him only a quick bout of the Cruciatus and a warning to not talk about things that he didn't understand.

"Potter..." The Dark Lord mused, petting Nagini as she snaked around his slim torso and looking lost in thought, though everyone knew that he was still more aware than they could ever hope to be, despite his relaxed demeanour. "Tell me, Severus, is it also true that the boy seems to loathe our esteemed Leader of the Light?" Voldemort cocked his eyebrows and his lips curved into a smile, but his eyes themselves showed no humour whatsoever.

"It seems so. From what I understand, Dumbledore placed him with abusive muggles when he was young and send Hagrid to fetch him. Potter somehow convinced the oaf that was fine on his own and has, since then, never been seen again. Dumbledore seems to think that Potter blames him for his childhood neglect, or at least that's reason he gave. Fact is solely that Potter's face, according to Longbottom, almost immediately scrunched into hatred, before Potter apparated, calling our esteemed Headmaster a motherfucker... if it was Potter, that is." Snape concluded his report, not mentioning that Dumbledore seemed to really regret what he had done, and not only because it seemed to have cost him the weapon of the prophecy, because that would just open cans of worms that he no interest whatsoever in opening.

"Interesting." Voldemort mused, more to himself than to anyone else, though he was perfectly aware that everyone was hanging onto his every word. "Have a look for Potter, and if you can find him, bring him here. I doubt that he will join us, given his performance in Diagon Alley, but nevertheless, he intrigues me, and if needed, I want to be the one that kills him, is that understood?" Most of his Death Eaters nodded eagerly – nobody wanted to get into a duel with the teen that had apparently forced their Lord to retreat, so these instructions sat just fine with them. Only Dolohov and Bellatrix looked a little put out, but knew better than to argue with the Dark Lord's direct orders.

"Also, Draco, I know that neither the Headmaster or the Longbottom boy are close associates of yours - " "Thank Merlin!" Narcissa mumbled. " - but if you do come across any additional information, I trust that I shall be informed swiftly?" "Of- of course, My Lord." Draco stammered slightly, fear evident in his eyes. A few other Death Eaters sniggered, but otherwise stayed silent.

"Speaking of information," Voldemort continued smoothly, silencing any amusement sprung from Draco's discomfort. "what can you tell me about this boy, Severus?" The Dark Lord waved his hand and a three-dimensional image of the boy that had openly defied him two days ago sprung into existence above the center of the table. Snape wasn't surprised, he had expected this question, but for once, wasn't exactly sure what to say. Neither Dumbledore nor Nero and Janus had any idea what would have driven the Ravenclaw student into such an open act of defiance, and he said so. Voldemort didn't look too pleased, but didn't press the point further, instead he turned to Draco.

"I definitly want some information on this boy, particularly anything on why the hell he would do something like this. Oh, he'll die for what he's done, but such a piece of information would be quite useful - or, at least quite amusing – to spice up his final hours of existence, would it not?" By the time he had finished, a truly sadistic gleam covered his face, making everyone shiver slightly, except for Snape, though he pretended to – if something was done by everyone simultaneously, then it had already been determined to be a safe course of action and to deviate from that wasn't a particularly smart course of action.

Draco, now white as a sheet, nodded affirmatively, his eyes not quite meeting Voldemort's eyes. This seemed to satisfy Voldemort – on other days, Draco would have received quite a bit of apin for his disrespect, but not today. Silently thanking his lucky stars, Draco focused his mind on the meeting again.

"Alright, now this is still a while away, and I guarantee that there will be other demonstrations of our power before it as well. However, it would still be prudent to being the planning of our next great raid as soon as possible. Bellatrix and Mulciber, you're in charge. You know the target. I want information on how best enter the building, which high-profile targets will be were on the... 27th of December and how we can the access them the easiest way, as well as any points of tactical advantage that can be used to ambush the Aurors once they arrive." The tone in his voice, even though he offered no words of farewell, made it obvious that the meeting was over. All the Death Eaters quietly stood up, walked up to their master's luxurious chair – more of a throne, really – knelt down and kissed the hem of his robes before leaving the room. Snape went last (except for Bellatrix and Mulciber, who seemed to be engrossed in planning already) and only Nero's special Occlumency instruction made it possible for him to hide his revulsion as he fell onto his knees in front of the Dark Lord, kissing his hem as shortly as he dared, before leaving rather abruptly. The evening was far from over for him – Dumbledore would want to know what had happenend, as would Nero and Janus, so he would have to hurry.

"Alright, spit it out, Wolfie. What's your grand plan?" Susan asked, as always a little annoyed by Remus' tendency to announce grandly and to then not say a thing until someone asked him. Heaven forbid that he offered something on his own!

"Alright, alright!" Remus said, raising his hands in a mock surrender. "We sneak Kreacher onto the Hogwarts staff." After being met with incredulous and some are-you-barmy looks, Remus realised that they might need a while to realise the genius of his plan. He was just about to explain the finer intricacies of his plan when Harry found his voice again.

"I really hope that there's more to your plan than that, 'cause if not, the school year will probably be over by the time that I've explained all the faults to you." He said, slight irritation in his voice. Before any of the others had the time to make their opinions known, he explained in more detail.

"House-elves can go pretty much everywhere, right? With no one questioning them?" The others nodded and rolled their eyes, that wasn't the part they had problems with. "And Kreacher, when we slip him in, will not even be bound to the orders of the Headmaster, so even if, like, Order meetings or Dumbledore's office are out of bounds, Kreacher can go there without a problem and no one will ever be any wiser."

"Yes, Moony, we figured as much. But – and here's the but – that's not the part that we were having problems with."

"Oh stuff it Paddy, if you'd just let finish, then you'd see what I'm on about. Anyway, here's the main part of the plan: we don't just sneak in, we use him to replace another elf. Brilliant, eh?" This time it was Amelia who voiced her concern.

"I've never seen an elf as old as Kreacher before, and that includes in the employ of Hogwarts. Not many people pay attention to house-elves, but even to those, Kreacher will stick out like a sore thumb."

"Ah, but he won't. We'll just cast a glamour on him that Harry locks in Parsletongue. Then, no one but him can undo it – he'll be able to copy the replaced elf's exact likeness." Harry had to admit that it was starting to look like a decent plan, though he wondered while Moony sometimes just had to drag out his explanations to the point where Harry was assuming that he was making a show out of it, he'd never know. And anyway, there was still one glaring part missing in Remus' scheme.

"And how do you expect to grab yourself a Hogwarts house-elf?" Susan asked the werewolf when it became that no-one else was going to do so.

"Easy." Remus retorted smugly. "We call him here – well, we let Kreacher do that – and then... well, we'll see. We might just stun him, or break his link with Hogwarts, or even employ him here, our house-elf, will, be then, hopefully working in Hogwarts." The other four thought it over, and Harry was to first to raise his voice.

"I don't like it, Remus." He said, frowning. "Most of it is sound, but I have no idea what we're going to do to the elf that Kreacher is replacing. House-elf magic is something that no-one knows a lot about, and if our containment fails, then this could all blow up in our faces."

"Besides, how do we get around the fact that Kreacher will not be a Hogwarts elf and thus incapable of hearing a summons from anywhere in the castle, as a house-elf in Hogwarts employ should be able to do?" Remus seemed to have overlooked that part of the plan, but Harry stepped in here.

"No problem. It's not going to be easy, but with the help of Remus I can lay live ward into Kreacher, one that scans a certains, given area for a precise action." "Like someone saying a name!" Susan responded and Harry nodded. "Exactly. Now we just need to know the volumen of Hogwarts and the name of the elf that we are impersonating. The greatest problem is that we can only start the ward once we have the other elf, the one who's name we need to layer in, and after that, the ward needs two days the be completed, which would mean said elf would not be in his job those two days."

Sirius groaned. "Yeah, definitely a really good plan that we're having."

Remus frowned, as did Harry. "Oh, shut up. Yeah, it needs some refining, but it just might work, So unless you have any better ideas, I'd appreciate it if you stopped whinging." Sirius only nodded, feeling himself taken back to the days of O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. Exams, when Remus had been in a similar mood to anyone who "antagonised" him (well, it was more like everyone who TALKED to him), and for a moment, Sirius' heart was filled the warmth of a family and those great times that Hogwarts that would so soon have to come to an end.

It was Amelia who asked the next question. "How can we make sure that he behaves?" She asked, thinking back to how Kreacher had been when they had first come here. "We won't be there to... positively condition him".

Surprisingly (or not – Kreacher was his childhood elf, after all), Sirius knew how to get through Kreacher's thick skin, which was hard, considering the fact that he enjoyed most of the corporal punishments inflicted upon him. "Telll him if he interprets one of our orders creatively, we give him to Remus on full-moon, turning him into a Werelf, and I doubt that his mistress would like to be served by such an unworthy mongrel as a Were." Yup, the others mentally agreed that that would shut him up.

After about two days of careful planning, they felt that they were as ready as they'd ever be. After Susan had, quite brilliantly, pointed out that they just needed the name of the elf, so why didn't they call it two days earlier, used the information to construct the live ward and then call for him again? It really was quite simple and it angered Harry and Remus, who were discussing temporal portkeys and Runic Chronomanipulation in order to circumvent this particular problem, a little, but they quickly got on with it.

Now, they stood in the kitchen of Grimmauld Place, all six of them, if you counted Kreacher, who was already glamoured to look like the elf that he was to replace, with a Parsletongue lock imbued into the charm. The live ward – which Harry had taken to call simply "scanner" had just been sucessfully bound to him. Now his magic would guide him wherever someone said his new name, just like any other house-elf in the employ of Hogwarts.

The only wildcard that remained was how to deal with the elf that Kreacher was about to replace, once Kreacher had called him to Grimmauld Place. They all liked him and they really didn't want to do what they might have to do, but there wasn't another option – only he was bound to Hogwarts loosely enough for this to even be an option. Not even Kreacher had any exact idea on whether they would be able to stun him, obliviate him or if they even had to sever his link to Hogwarts, and what that would mean if it became a necessity. Stunning Kreacher hadn't been a problem, but then house-elves did get their power over their bond and the bond of a young elf to a thriving place like Hogwarts would surely be very different than that of an old and nearly-dying family elf of the Ancestral Home of a dark family. Amelia and Susan had scoured the library for any kind of information on this, but not even Slytherin's extensive library gave them any new information. They had reached a dead end and there was really only one way to proceed.

Taking a deep breath, Sirius nodded at Harry and spoke. "Do it, Kreacher."

Kreacher gave his master a nod, clapped his hands and cried "Dobby!"

On September the 1st, the Hogwarts Express rolled out of King's Cross at exactly 11 o'clock. It was packed with students, but the mood was not as boisterous as it usually was. The terror of the attack on Diagon Alley was still present in everybody's minds. As a result, most people were in the compartments, talking quietly, reading, looking out the window and maybe playing Exploding Snap. No-one was running around in the corridors, screaming something about them finally going to Hogwarts, no-one was going from compartment to compartment to annoy other people... most students just sat there and contemplated what this school year would bring.

Two of these people were Hermione Jean Granger and Neville Franklin Longbottom. They were sharing a compartment, even a bench, sitting next to each other, Hermione's head on Neville's shoulder, yet their eyes told that they were both far away – thinking about both past and future.

There once had been others, other friends than just the two of them. In first year, they had bonded with the sometimes clue- and tactless Ron Weasley and somewhat shy Susan Bones on their very first train-ride and quickly become friends during their first year, despite all their differences. They parted ways after the first year had ended, with Ron smilingly promising to write them all letters, nothing which they really believed he would.

They never saw Ron again. A week into the summer holiday the Weasley home was torched by Fiendfyre, sparing only Charlie, who was in Romania and Bill in Egypt from the fate that befallen their five siblings and their parents – being vaporised in the flames of hell. After Hermione had found out, she felt guilty for cursing Ron for not writing – she had, after all, damnit! - and cried herself to sleep for a whole week, only to emerge a changed, a hardened person.

Second year had been oh so very hard. They had all missed Ron's easy-going nature immensely, and while they became fast friends with the eccentric Luna Lovegood, a Ravenclaw first year, it always felt that Ron had left a whole that nobody could replace. All three of them, Hermione, Neville and Susan were rather shy people and Ron was the first time that they had a friend that challenged them to leave their comfort zone. Sure, he and Hermione had gotten into arguments a-plenty, but they still cared deeply for each other and a piece of each of them had died with Ron and never returned.

After Summer break, Susan didn't return. Same thing: the Ossuary had been torched, this time by Voldemort personally, and there were no survivors. Hermione, Neville and Luna became an even tighter group, not really trusting anybody but the others in the group. They didn't let anyone else close, for fear that enough death would emotionally cripple them once again.

After Christmas in third year, Neville and Hermione started the Defence Association, in order to better defend themselves against the looming threat of Voldemort and his Death Eaters; plus, their defence teachers weren't helping any. Many had come to the meetings initially. Not all of them stayed, but those that did were no children anymore, Neville could see it in their eyes. They had become hard and cold, like his and Hermione's. Some of them were lost in grief, some consumed by desire for revenge. Neville knew fully well that there were some students in there that would become monsters in the hunt of those that had wronged them, those that would commit atrocities, those that would maim and kill with pleasure, if only to come one step closer to those that had made them set out on their quest, and Neville couldn't blame them one bit for it. What did it matter, anyway?

The lessons continued and eventually saw fruition. Nothing big, but some DA members holding of a few junior Death Eaters in Hogsmeade until the teachers arrived, before they could rape and kill. That kind of thing. Nothing extraordinary, but for a few days, hope would flare up. They weren't beaten yet! And then, the next day, the owls would come again, delivering those accursed black envelopes that everybody knew by now, and it was all for nothing again.

And then came the battle of Diagon Alley. Their first real battle. With proper Death Eaters, Inner Circle members even. And they all fought their best, and it was almost never enough. No matter how much the DA had trained in the past three years, the Death Eaters were better, stronger, faster and more deadly.

Some of them had actually won their duels. Neville against Dolohov. Hermione against Alecto. Padma against Travers. But so so many more had lost their duels and their lives, becoming the playthings of the sick machinations of the Death Eaters. Entrail-Expelling, Lung-Shredding, Explosive Castration, they'd seen it all, and far too many had not walked away with their lives again.

Amongst them was Luna. Sweet, innocent Luna, that Hermione and Neville had protected from the world as best as they could. Their only real friend that wasn't the other one. And Mulciber had stripped her, raped her, cut off her breasts and forced her to choke on them. He hadn't even spoken the Headmaster about Luna. Neville had seen her mutilated corpse moments after the battle was over, but he just couldn't accept. He just couldn't.

Hermione and Neville's eyes caught and they both knew that they were thinking about who would be next. Hermione's parents? Grandparents? Augusta? One of their school acquaintances? Maybe the owls wouldn't come tomorrow, or the day after that, or even in the next week, but they would come. They always came. Those thrice-accursed Ministry owls, carrying those black envelopes. They were so sick of it. Why couldn't it all just end?

The train rolled nearer and nearer to the school that they had loved so much in their first year. Now it was just another place to wait for death, Hermione thought bitterly as she clung onto Neville's muscular body with all her might.

Dobby had helped Kreacher before, when his Young Master, the Great Harry Potter Sir had sustained an injury that Kreacher himself couldn't heal, and the Master Harry Potter's Dogfather Sir had insisted that no hospital or any person in official capacity be contacted. Dobby had helped Kreacher with Young Master, and he had been kind and thanked Dobby for it! What a great wizard the Great Harry Potter Sir was! And now he was being called again. Dobby wondered what they wanted this time, but he was sure that it would be glorious!


The spell from the Great Harry Potter Sir's wand hit Dobby and bounced off. Surely this had been an accident, the Young Master would never harm Dobby, he had forbidden him to punish himself Master Harry Potter Sir was good and kind!

"Stupefy!"The Master Harry Potter's Dogfather and The Lady Bonesie cast together with the Great Harry Potter Sir and Dobby felt everything fading to black, falling, falling...

Harry let out a breath he didn't knew he had been holding. It seemed that elves in Hogwarts employ were notoriously tougher than... well, Kreacher was his only comparison. Dobby had taken three powerful stunners to go unconscious, whereas normally even the most powerful adult wizard needed a maximum of two.

Not wishing to be caught unawares now, Harry cast a magical monitoring charm on the out-cold Dobby, and he was glad that he did. Hogwarts was reversing the stunner somehow – clearly the castle knew that an elf under her protection had been attacked. Now, how could he remedy that... he started small – simply obliviated the memory of Dobby being stunned from Dobby – if Hogwarts had a mental link to the elves and found out about the attack by seeing Dobby attack through his own eyes, then this might do the trick. The others were crowded behind him, wearing sad faces – the sad face he'd be wearing if he didn't mask it – they all really, really liked Dobby, but they needed the information and the Hogwarts bond would never allow Dobby to spy on its Headmaster, that was for sure.

Sadly, though not surprisingly, Harry idea didn't work. Hogwarts continued re-awakening the stunned elf. Harry cast two more stunners, in Parseltongue on the unconscious elf. In order to by himself some time, and turned to the four people standing behind him.

"Right, Hogwarts is fighting this. Well, I assume this is Hogwarts. Something is fighting this, re-awakening Dobby even now as we speak. We can't let that happen. Ideas?"

"Did you try to obliviate the encounter?" Susan asked, she remembered that they had planned that as a first of three options, should a simple stunner fail to work.

"Yeah. No good." He quickly jumped into Dobby's mind, which was, while definitely different from a human one, similar enough in the important details. He quickly found the obliviation charm he had cast and saw that it was corroding away – the memory was returning. He quickly exited Dobby's head and relayed what he had seen to the foursome standing behind him, as he kneeled over Dobby's unconscious form.

"Well, then you'll have to try to erase every memory from being at Hogwarts from Dobby's memory." Amelia concluded sadly. She knew Harry knew this and was just stalling because this was something that he really didn't want to do, but it was too late now. They couldn't back out from what they had started. Speaking of what they had started...

"Kreacher!" She snapped. "Get to Hogwarts and take Dobby's place! You know what to do, we'll sort this out!" The ancient house-elf, now looking exactly like Dobby quickly disappeared from the living room, leaving only five humans and an unconscious elf.

"Right... here goes nothing." muttered Harry and, after a split-second of hesitation, cast a second memory charm, this one far more complex, and layered. It would erase any memory that Dobby ever had of working for Hogwarts, which should negate the bond, somehow. Hopefully.

At first, this seemed to be working, as the memory charm spread it's way through Dobby's mind, systematically erasing everything that Dobby had ever done in service of Hogwarts, from 1992 to 1996. His first day, negotiating pay with Dumbledore, was gone. The second day, the first time in the kitchen. They all kept coming, and all of them disappeared.

And then it was done. But the charm kept going. Dobby's life with the Malfoy's. The day that Lucius' had screamed "Take that!" before blasting the house-elf into a pile of used underwear, inadvertently freeing him. The first time he had to iron his hands. The first time the Malfoys pierced his ears with kitched knives.

Younger still. The days kept coming, and kept going. The first day of work at the Malfoy's. Being bought by Lucius Malfoy at a dinghy shop in Knockturn Alley. Living in the dark, in the shop, hoping that someone would pick him up and at the same time that no-one would do so because their lives would be so much more worse than here.

Younger still. Coming, going. His mother, nursing him. His father, cradling him. Then him being taken away only one hour after being born... off to work.

Being born.

Going... going... gone.

At the same time, the stunner had worn off. The link with Hogwarts was gone. So was everything else.

Dobby opened his eyes and looked into the grief-stricken eyes of Harry Potter. "Who is I?" The house-elf questioned. There was nothing there, nothing. What if this was the Master? What if he was disrespectful? What if-

And then Harry Potter knew that he just wanted to break down and cry.

They strode through the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, three of the most powerful and magically gifted – at least in their field – magic users ever. And no-one would ever know. Because they stayed in the shadows, guiding, manipulating, but never leading.

No one could see them, no matter how well they looked for Disillusionment Charms or the like, no charm could detect their body heat, their feet were silent, their bodies were invisible... Mad-Eye Moody could have walked passed and not noticed a thing, unless he stepped on a few toes, of course.

But the corridor was empty and they had nothing to worry about.

Outside, the snow was falling. It was a harsh winter, the January and February of 1981, but that didn't matter to them. It was warm in here – well, around their bodies, and they wouldn't even have needed it.

Their names were Pavle, Janus and Nero. Three names that, if the deeds of those using them became known, would inspire terror on par with the Dark Lord Voldemort themselves. But nobody knew their names, and they preferred it that way.

Pavle was a potions prodigy. He had invented thirty new potions while still in school and improved nearly two-hundred. He had perfected the Imperius Curse in liquid form, he had invented a potion that killed the subject and, based on the extra ingredients added, gave them the symptoms of a certain type of death. He had found a formula for Veritaserum that forced everyone, even non-humans to declare the whole truth without omissions and everything else that was believed to be of relevance.

Less than a tenth of these were known to the public. Most of them, the three kept and used only by themselves.

Janus was a master of illusion. He could cast a glamour, then subtract the magical signature, making it impossible to spot. He could mask body heat, magical signatures and any type of movement sounds. He could create illusions so realistic, that they could actually make people feel pain – no real wounds, of course, but his illusions looked so real, the brain of the attacked was convinced their attack was real and was forced to produce a pain reaction. He could disguise himself, from being as small to a one-year-old to being as big as Hagrid, all without a second though.

Nobody had ever not been fooled by one of his illusions.

The third was Nero, a Mind Mage. His mastery over the mind arts was absolute. He could create false identities within his mind and project them to his conscious mind with ease, and they would never be detected. He could hold twenty people under the Imperius curse simultaneously, and nobody had ever broken free of his Imperius. He could cast compulsion charms as strong as the Imperius of most people. He could alter memories in such a complete way that the changes made could never be discovered. And he could turn anybody into a master of the Mind Arts by any normal standards.

Today would mostly be Nero's job, though Janus had to make sure that they weren't spotted. Pavle was just along for the ride because he hated their target – well, their targets – and wanted to witness this.

Like they had estimated, most of the Order was already in session in the unused classroom in the East Wing. They settled down and prepared for the meeting to finish when they struck extremely good fortune.

Their target was coming towards them, presumably returning from the bathroom.

Oh this would be so much fun.

Peter Pettigrew wasn't a very good wizard. He was adequate, nothing more, but he did have very good friends.

James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin... all three of them were some of the most brilliant students to attend Hogwarts, each in their own way. And he, the mediocre Peter Pettigrew was part of their group. He had become an animagus, for fuck's sake, all thanks to their help!

Really, that compartment on the train had been the best choice of his life. Before, he was a pudgy boy who had no-one. In the space of twenty-four hours he had become group of what later become the coolest group in the school.

But hang on! A tiny voice shouted in his head, nagging, it was, it felt wrong, but he couldn't ignore it. You were just their comic relief! Do you really think they LIKED you?

'Shut up.' He mentally muttered back, but the voice was strong, something that he never really been. 'I don't know what they see in me, that's true, but I'm a valued friend of theirs. Now stuff it.'

Friend? Are you really that delusional? They laughed about you behind your back! They are the powerful ones, not you, and they never made you forget that!

'That's not true.' He mumbled feebly, not even believing it himself any longer. 'They're great friends.'

Of course they are. But why should they be a great friend to you? You're worthless and pathetic! The greatest power that you have is to turn yourself into a rat! How can that compare with any of them? With Sirius's DADA prowess? With James' Transfiguration mastery? With Remus' brains in just about everything? Give up! You see, it's power! That's what they respect. Why would they every respect you?

It was true, Peter thought tiredly. He'd never had a more taxing walk from bathroom to classroom. Why would they every respect me? I'm just the comic relief. A nobody. A near-squib. Peter choked back the tears that were already running down his face.

Does it have to be like that, though? I mean... power... you know promises it. Are you so weak that you won't even try that?

Never, Peter thought. I might be weak, I might be their comic relief, but they still mean a lot to me. And I'd never betray them.

Even after having been betrayed, strung-along, used for so long? I know you, Peter, you wish to be their equal, and you know as well as I do what you have to do to achieve that.

The voice never spoke to him again. But one week later, he had a new tattoo on his left arm.

Author's Note: New chapter! The first new chapter! Like I said, this will be getting pretty dark, and you've gotten a taste for it. I think I can say now that at the end... 5 of the main characters will still be alive. The rest will have kicked the bucket, in most cases violently. Also, there's a hint in here as to the identity of either Janus or Nero. If you think you've got it, put it in a review, if it's correct, I'll message you. Nothing public, but you get to feel good about being clever. How does that sound?