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Chapter Twenty-One

Death's Anniversary

An Asian witch appeared and raised four fingers, made a fist, then displayed all five. Nine Death Eaters. The Leader and his six mates had faced worse odds, but not by much. He regripped his wand and confirmed that his team, split along the front and side wall of the farmhouse, was ready, and then thrust both hands forward. The two Aurors in tonight's raid launched a series of Ward Detection Charms, then shifted to Dismantling Spells.

"Their down!" A deep voice announced.

Merlin's beard! The Leader had laughed when they promised to break the wards within fifteen seconds, but eight? He owed them an apology. A wicked smile pulled at his lips and a hunger grew in his belly. These were the moments for which Neville Longbottom now lived.

"Kill the bastards!"

Seven spells pierced walls in a violent show of magical power. Neville's unit breached along the side of the farmhouse, engaging the smaller group of four that lounged in a living room. Death Eaters rose from their seats, but Neville's Bludgeoning Curse destroyed the closest man's chest before he could stand. To his left, Cho's Killing Curse snuffed a wizard. And beyond her, Susan Bones stunned her target, then collaborated with Cho, sending Killing Curses at the last remaining wizard in their area of responsibility.

Neville looked past the carnage into the Dining Room, where Marcus Flint's sub-unit had launched a devastating hail of multi-colored curses. They decimated the larger group, allowing only one Death Eater to launch a spell at them, it was blackish-red and shot to Neville's left. Cutters and Killing Curses corrected the oversight.

Marcus lowered his wand. "Dining area's cleared, hallway ahead."

"Take Adrian," Neville answered. "Remember Newquay and be careful." He watched them disappear into the hallway when Cho's panicked voice caught his attention. He spun, and found her lowering an unconscious Susan Bones to the floor. A ball of lead formed in his stomach as he approached.

"How bad?" he asked when he couldn't stand it anymore.

"Almost finished." She passed her wand over Susan's body once, then twice. "There, I can't find any permanent damage, but I'd feel better if Marcus back-checked me."

"I'll get him."

No sooner did he finish speaking when Adrian's voice rang through the house. "I'll kill you, you summabitch!"

Neville sprinted through the front room and into the hall, wand in hand. He entered the far bedroom in time to see Adrian drive a knee into the stomach of a Death Eater, then follow with a double-fisted blow to the back of the head that crumpled the wizard.

Opposite him, Marcus connected with a right hook that buckled the knees of a second Death Eater, then lamped him with a shot to the jaw. Two sickening cracks echoed in the room and Marcus cradled his arm against his chest. "Bloody hell, I broke my wrist."

Neville shook his head. "Then use a wand, you berk! Hold your hand up." He hit it with a Numbing Charm, then watched Marcus flex his fingers a couple of times. "Better?"

"A bit, it might be time to teach Cho some new Bone-Healing Charms."

"Speaking of which, I need you to check Susan; she took a curse to the chest."

"How bad?"

"Cho thinks she's fine, but wants your opinion. I'll stay with Adrian and clean up. Also, skip the new stuff tonight and get Cho to cast a normal Healing Charm on you, I don't want us down a wand unnecessarily."

"You're probably right, it can wait." Marcus retrieved his wand and left the room.

When they were alone, Adrian, who was rifling through the Death Eater's pockets, asked, "Is Susan really okay?"

"I'm pretty sure she is. Cho's just doubting herself again."

Adrian flipped the Death Eater over, paying no mind to the man's head bouncing off the hardwood floor, and started on his back pockets. "Doubting herself, eh? There's a surprise."

Neville scowled. "That's not fair, she's busting her arse to learn Healing Charms."

Adrian shrugged, but a few moments later, he stood, his nostrils flaring in anger. "Bloody Death Eaters!" He launched a kick at the man's ribs. "Not even a Portkey! Are you serious!"

"Pucey!" Neville barked.

Adrian took a deep breath and relaxed, then looked back at Neville. "You're right, sorry. It's just . . . before we breached, that uneasiness I felt in Newquay returned. Then you go and mention the place, Susan gets cursed because we overlooked another wand, then we split to cover parts of a building that we had no prior knowledge of. At this point, I'd be more shocked if Cho wasn't doubting herself. It's Newquay all over again, just not as bad."

Adrian's Death Eater moaned and Neville stunned him before answering. "It's nothing of the sort. Get over it and remember what Shacklebolt said, 'If you live in the past, you'll die in the present.' Let it go."

"I know, but—"

Neville cuffed him on the shoulder. "Shut it, I don't want to hear a 'but', understand? You didn't Bollocks it up then, and you sure as hell didn't tonight." He smirked. "Until you and Marcus lost your wands."

"My hand still stings from that."

"So what happened?"

"Marcus was first-wizard-in." Adrian rubbed his forehead with the back of his hand. "He saw something to his left and I noticed the bloke to his right. . . it's a shame you didn't grow up Muggle."

"Why's that?"

A little grin finally creased Adrian's lips. "We crossed the streams."

Neville raised an eyebrow.

"Great movie" Adrian said. "Don't cross the streams, it's bad."

"What do you mean, bad?"

Cho picked that moment to walk through the door. "All life as you know it stopping instantaneously, total protonic reversal. Susan's okay, but she needs to rest."

"Good," Neville said. "Did Marcus recognize the spell?"

"Peruvian Energy Depletion Hex. He learned it during Pride of Portree's South American tour. I'm guessing the Quidditch there was brutal."

Adrian snorted. "Ask about his game in Manaus. He swears that scar on his leg came from a piranha a Chaser summoned from the Amazon."

Neville chuckled. Marcus's stories were legendary, and the deeper they plunged into a bottle of firewhisky, the more legendary they grew. "I'll remember that next time."

"It's worth it." Adrian turned to Cho. "By the way, where did you learn about crossing the streams? You're not Muggle-born."

"My next-door neighbor married a Muggle. It's their favorite movie." She raised her chin at the Death Eaters. "Are we taking them with us?"

"Nothing here says 'inner circle,'" Neville answered. "I doubt they'll know anything worth the risk. Are they marked?"

"Mine is," Adrian said.

Cho rolled the Death Eater's forearm over with her foot. "Ahh, look at that, poor boy's been freshly branded. I hope he said goodbye to mummy."

The hair on the back of Neville's neck stood on end. He hated that voice, that false empathy laced with an undertone of vapid joy. Moreover, he hated what this war was doing to her, to all of them. He also hated how easy the war made his next order. "Kill them."

Neville entered the main room and found Susan awake. "How are you feeling?"

"Knackered beyond thought, but Quidditch-boy says that's normal."

Marcus ignored the jab. "It's a nasty little hex. She needs bed rest for a few days."

"Then grab Adrian when he comes out and Apparate Susan to the house, but I want you both to stay with her until we get back."

"Will do, Guv'nor."

Neville rolled his eyes at Marcus's cheek and walked toward the Aurors that joined the night's raid. "Find anything?"

Tonks offered a small bag of papers. "Tonight's prize, it's not much." They both watched Adrian and Cho reenter the room. Marcus called Adrian over and explained how he wanted to move Susan, then Adrian slipped an arm around her other side and they eased her through the largest of the breaching-holes.

Tonks turned back to Neville. "We'll contact you sometime next week. Keep your wand high and your arse safe."

Adrian glanced back over his shoulder. "Hey, Tonks, how high do you want his wand?"

She rewarded him with a two-fingered response that he found hilarious, and his laughter forced the corner of Tonks's lip to pull up, but it went no further. She gestured to the others. "Good luck, Neville. Keep 'em safe, you have good people."

"Same to you and Charlie."

Tonks grew rigid, but Neville decided it wasn't his business and changed the topic. "Let me know if you hear anything about Harry, if he was dead, the Death Eaters would've paraded his body through Diagon Alley."

Her jaw snapped shut. "We've talked about this before."

"And you're still wrong."

Her skin flushed. "Grow up! And stop wasting your breath on stupid shit. Adrian and Marcus both saw Remus and my cousin get killed, and we never found their bodies, either. Harry is dead. They're all dead. Wrap your thick skull around that fact and move on!" She spun on her heel walked out.

Neville turned to her partner, befuddled. "What's that about?"

"Charlie's gone on a mission," Shacklebolt answered. "A bad one, from what I understand. So I decided it'd be better for us to tag along with your lot tonight than sitting at home getting more brassed off by the minute."

Neville snuck a glance at her breach in the wall. It was twice the normal size. "I'd say so; remind me never to land on her bad side."

Shacklebolt threw his head back and a deep, booming laughter filled the house. "So, Chaos fears a little witch named Nymphadora Tonks. Imagine that."

"Oh belt up! I swear I'm gonna curse the reporter who popularized that name straight into the grave."

Shacklebolt left, his laughter trailing behind him. Five minutes later, Neville and the rest of his team Apparated to an abandoned building in the middle of Muggle London.

X ~ X ~ X ~ X

About that same time, but hundreds of miles away, a Chronos Charm indicated that Harry had ten seconds until his Portkey arrived. He tightened the leather keeping his hair back and checked the cave one last time.

A soft thump announced the visitor's arrival. Harry hit him with an Immobulus Spell, then used a Diagnostic Charm to check for tracking. Satisfied, he side-Apparated the wizard to a second cave, then once again to a third.

Moonlight filtered in high above their heads, beating back the shadows enough that Harry could study the malnourished git. First impression: he should dump the pencil mustache. It made him look too much like a bloke on Dudley's specialVHS tapes.

Harry shook the errant thought and cast a Rennervate spell.

"Where am I?"

"Wrong question," Harry said. "Lumos."

The wizard shielded his eyes. "Who are you?"

"Still wrong. Let me try. What are you passing to Voldemort?"

The name caused the wizard to flinch. "I've never—"

Harry slammed his foot into the man's chest and he toppled backwards into the dirt. "Let's try this again. What are you passing to Voldemort?"

"I . . . I can't tell you"—the wizard gasped for breath—"they'll kill me."

"Then you have a problem, because if you don't tell me, I'll kill you. I'm sure your wife'll enjoy waking up next to a bloody corpse in the morning."

The wizard blanched. "Please, you don't understand, Death Eaters threatened my family. I have a daughter, a first year. She lived through the Hogwarts Massacre—"

"What's her name?"

The question must have sparked a protective trait in the wizard. He rose to his knees and faced Harry. "Go to hell!"

Harry's foot collided with his face and he tumbled back into the dirt. "Her name!" Harry demanded.

"If you touch her . . ."

"You'll do what?" he asked. "Empty threats are worthless." Harry let that sink in before continuing. "Look, I have no desire towards an innocent girl, I was just curious if I knew her. You, however, are not so innocent. That means I'm going to take pleasure in killing you if you don't answer my bleedin' question. Now!"

The wizard dipped his head. "Emma, Emma Dobbs. Please, don't . . ."

Dobbs . . . Dobbs . . . why did it sound familiar? Wasn't she—

"Gryffindor!" announced the Sorting Hat. Dennis Creevey grinned, removed the Hat, then ran across the Great Hall and joined his brother at the table. "Look!" said Colin, pointing toward Harry. "Guess who that is!"

Harry expected it, but still didn't like, or even want the attention, so instead, he focused on the next firstie.

"Emma Dobbs," Professor McGonagall called. A brown-haired girl inched her way to the Sorting Hat. She was such a tiny girl that the hat fell straight over her eyes and rested on the bridge of her nose. Harry smiled.

"She lived?"

"She did, we were lucky."

"You were," he agreed. "Most of the others died that night."

"I know."

"You know?" Harry's skin prickled. "You know, but you don't care at all, do you?"

"Of course I care!"

"Then why are you betraying Dumbledore, the professors, and the hundreds of students who fought against Death Eaters so Emma could escape? You care my arse." Harry shook with rage. "I should kill you now!"

"No! Wait, it's not like that, they threatened me, and they know where I live. Every day I Apparate home, fearing a Dark Mark hovering over my house and my family murdered because I've buggered something up."

"So instead, you pass on information that Death Eaters use to murder other families? You have yours, so bugger the rest! Is that how it is, Mr. Dobbs?"

"Damn you! No, it's not!"

"Liar! Your information has helped murder three Ministry workers. Don't bother trying to justify yourself!" He canceled his Lumos Spell, then his wand flicked again.

"They were Death Eaters!" Mr. Dobbs cried. "I promise!"

Harry stopped just before he released a Pain Curse. "Repeat that?"

"Death Eaters." Mr. Dobbs said again. "Yes, I pass information along, but it's all office gossip. Every once in a while I pass along something to cast doubt on one of his Death Eaters. That's who he killed."

Harry blinked, then blinked again. He hated it when a Snitch suddenly changed direction. "If you're so afraid of Death Eaters, then why risk your family by manipulating Voldemort?"

"I didn't say I was afraid of them. I said I was afraid of what they'd do to my family. If I raised my wand against them, they'd murder my wife and daughter, maybe even make it a public execution to 'prove a point.' That's why my weapons are paperwork and office gossip." He squared his shoulders. "You fight this war your way; I'll fight it mine, and if you don't it, then sod off!"

Harry leaned against the wall of the cave. No matter how much he wished otherwise, Mr. Dobbs wasn't wrong, and that meant that Harry's black and white world just turned gray. Blimey, why couldn't this be easier?

"I planned to kill you tonight for working with Voldemort, but now . . . how do I know you won't betray me?"

Mr. Dobbs closed his eyes. "Augustus Rookwood. That's who I lied about, and I'll tell you everything I know. If you believe I'm trying to play both sides against the middle, get a message to You-Know-Who. I only ask that you warn me first so I can get my family to safety."

"This might hurt—Legilmens!" He dove into the man's thoughts, and crashed against the meager natural self-defenses an adult wizard's mind erects. It felt worse than beaking the mountain on his broom. Harry rubbed his temples. If he ever saw Markus again, they'd have words about this particular lapse in his training. His second try was slower, and while he had very little skill in the art, he did find subtle hints that the wizard was being honest.

Five minutes later, he conjured a piece of paper and a self-inking quill. "Write a note to yourself: if you betray those who oppose Voldemort, you'll die, painfully."

"You're letting me go?"

"I'm a killer, not a murderer. This conversation'll be removed, then I'll send you home."

The wizard deflated. "Thank Merlin, I thought I was dead."

"You almost were." He gestured to the paper. "Write."

Mr. Dobbs put quill to parchment, then hesitated. "May I ask you something?"

Harry crossed his arms, wondering if Mr. Dobbs might yet earn a Killing Curse. "It's your life."

"You used a Portkey to get me out of my house, right?"

"And if I did?"

"Don't do it again. I can't afford Portkeys wards, but most others probably can, and since Portkeys retain remnants of the creator's magic, the Ministry can retrieve and analyze any Portkey deactivated by wards. Once they have that, then every Portkey they find, used or not, they can test against it. They won't determine who you are, but they'll track every Portkey made and eventually, they'll establish a pattern."

"So?"

"If they know your patterns, they'll set ambushes."

Harry's eyes narrowed. "How do you know this?"

"I work in Magical Transportation; we developed the Magical Detection Charms for Portkeys in the first war to catch Death Eaters who were Muggle-trapping. They'd use the poor bastards for entertainment. But this time around, You-Know-Who controls the Ministry, so they've turned it against us. I heard that they almost caught Chaos a few months ago."

"Then, what do you suggest? I quit and go on home?"

Mr. Dobbs smiled. "Of course, not. Use house-elves. We can track neither them nor their magic."

House-elves? Was that why the Ministry believed he committed underage magic before his second year? If they couldn't track Dobby, then . . . "Are you sure?"

"Absolutely. No one's even tried to track them, let alone develop proper wards. The problem, however, is finding a house-elf that's willing to help. I'd suggest one that's unbound, but they're very dangerous."

You have no idea, Mr. Dobbs, Harry thought. The night Dobby appeared at the Burrow, that little blighter slipped through the wards without a problem, and he looked more like a minor demon than a house-elf. Dangerous, doesn't even come close to being the proper word for them. "I'd say 'thank you,' but you're not going to remember it."

He hit Mr. Dobbs with one of Voldemort's favorite Memory Charms, then sent him home via Portkey and slumped against the wall. Somewhere he'd read that plans never survived first contact with the enemy, but Mr. Dobbs wasn't even an enemy, and his plans still didn't survive! The bright spot, however, was that the person atop Pansy's "Ministry list" might be playing a similar game. At least he hoped, or it'd be a frightful meeting.

X ~ X ~ X ~ X

A week later, Harry sat atop another roof in Knockturn Alley, studying a dilapidated two-story building across the street that Pansy identified as a Death Eater haven. Clouds blocked the evening sun, casting everything into a darkish haze. It was perfect for the first anniversary of the Hogwarts Massacre, a full year since they murdered Ron, Hermione, and the others.

Tonight, he'd begin claiming the blood debts owed him, and the entire world would know who came collecting, of that, he was sure.

A fifth wizard in black robes slipped into the building. Harry wondered why they left it unwarded. Either they were incapable of setting them, or overconfident. Whichever it was, they were about to die on account of it. Harry's pulse quickened and he had to focus to quell the blood lust that swelled beneath the surface.

The last expected Death Eater appeared. Harry counted fifty heartbeats, then followed him across the alley and through the door. The bottom floor divided into unused offices on his right, and an old staircase to his left. A slight layer of dust indicated someone had climbed them recently, more than one, actually. Harry cast a Feather-Light Charm on himself, then eased up the rickety stairs, praying that his invisibility cloak would stay in place.

The stairwell opened into a single room that took up the entire second floor. A thick, white area rug lay in the center, and Death Eaters lounged on expensive but mismatched couches surrounding it. They'd disposed of their masks and robes. Harry recognized Crabbe and Goyle, drinking Butterbeer on his left, and to his right, a Slytherin witch, a year older than them rested with a couple of foreign wizards on another couch. A Hufflepuff witch two years Harry's senior poured firewhisky shots on a makeshift counter on the far side of the room.

"Why doesn't Draco come anymore?" she asked the others.

"Dunno," Goyle answered. "We don't see him much since he became part of the Dark Lord's inner circle."

The Slytherin witch snorted. "It's not that difficult. You and Crabbe took a wand up your arse against Longbottom last Christmas, so Draco got smart and distanced himself from your constant failings."

Crabbe set his Butterbeer on the table. "Bite me, you bint!"

"Jacqueline ist richtig. Er ist nicht—" One of the foreigner wizards began.

But Goyle cut him off. "Hey, Rhine Monkey, speak English."

The wizard flushed. "If you didn't have the Dark Lord's patronage, I'd kill you."

"Good luck with that, wanker."

"Knock it off." The Hufflepuff witch passed out the shots of firewhisky. "Now, either yank your cranks and out finish the pissing contest, or shut up." She turned to Goyle. "And if you insult Dieter again, I will kill you, and my family enjoys the Dark Lord's patronage as much as yours, so don't think I wouldn't."

"Go get bent," Crabbe said, coming to Goyle's defense. "Draco's recruiting for the Dark Lord, that's why we don't see him."

"Recruiting, my wizarding arse," she answered, then raised her shot of firewhisky, and in a loud voice toasted, "To the Purebloods!" and downed the liquid.

So, Harry thought, either Malfoy was a poster boy for Death Eater recruitment, or he lied to his two best friends. He decided on lying, not that Malfoy's fighting skills impressed anyone, but "I'll write father if you don't join," wasn't going to motivate most wizards to join a Dark Lord.

"Why can't you speak good English?" Goyle said, interrupting Harry's train of thought.

"Why can't you?" Jacqueline asked. "You're a disgrace to Slytherin." Another row began.

They were making it too easy, not that Harry was going to complain. He knelt and slipped his wand under his cloak, then launched a colorless spell, called an "Attention Getter." It arched into the empty firewhisky bottles on the counter. They clanged off each other and fell over, rolling to the floor below where they shattered.

Goyle jumped, his wand in hand. "What was that?"

"Relax," the Hufflepuff said. "Your lazy arse didn't level the counter properly after I spent two hours teaching you that spell. Are you really that incapable?"

"I did it exactly like . . ." His sentence trailed off when black waves of air roiled from behind. They turned as one and saw Harry, his eyes blood-red and his hair splayed out behind him.

"Who the hell are you?" Dieter asked.

He almost smiled. "Death." He jumped to his left to avoid the Bone Breaker the other German launched at him. Harry returned a Killing Curse and watched the wizard collapse. A beat of silence passed, and then curses lit the room.

Harry shielded and reached through his magic to deform the charm. Curses ricocheted at odd angles and the Hufflepuff witch caught Goyle's Cutting Curse in the neck. She slapped a hand over the gash, but blood spurted between her fingers. Crabbe took a spell in the chest and crashed against the couch, flipping it over.

Harry released the shield Charm. "Acidum Sanguinem!"

The orange curse hit Dieter in the stomach. He dropped his wand and a moment later, screamed in unholy terror when his blood-turned-acid chewed through his body. His skin bubbled and popped with a hiss.

Goyle shook himself from the grotesque scene and moved to Harry's left, Jacqueline to his right. Another Shield Charm deflected Jacqueline's first volley, and he managed to wand-block Goyle's Bludgeoner just before he felt his wand yanked from his hand. Jacqueline caught it, a look of smug satisfaction plastered on her face.

But Harry didn't stop; he leaped forward and slammed a fist into the bridge of Goyle's nose, then spun him around, pulling Goyle tight against his chest as a shield. With his other hand, he stripped Goyle of his wand and aimed for the Slytherin witch. "Retro Conteram!"

A strangled cry escaped Jacqueline's lips and she dove, the Back Breaker grazing her sleeve. Damn! Goyle's wand was too slow! Harry spun Goyle back around, held him by the hair, and drove another fist into his throat. Goyle went down hard, gasping for breath.

Harry, still with Goyle's wand in hand, hit Jacqueline with a Disarming Spell. His wand sailed toward him, but he also noticed Jacqueline reaching for hers, which was still on the floor. She must have dropped it when she fell.

He Apparated across the room and leveled his wand at her. "Suffocatio Mortem!" He stopped halfway through the release move and looked at his wand, befuddled. What was the final flick? A Bone Crusher caught his left arm and shattered the bone just above the elbow. He cried out in pain, but at least the muscles in his hand clenched, saving his life by releasing the Holding Charm. A brick wall materialized a moment before Goyle's Killing Curse smashed into it.

How did Goyle get his wand back? That's right, Harry dropped it to catch his own. Damn stupid thing to do! He cast a Sticking Charm on his chest and secured his arm, ignoring the tremendous pain. He took a deep breath and commanded himself to focus, and then blasted the wall. Jacqueline took a large chunk of the wall across her chest and collapsed, and pieces of brick sliced across Goyle's head.

To Harry's left, Crabbe had recovered. He stepped in and threw a punch. Harry slid to the left and countered with a foot to the knee, snapping the joint. But he lost his balance and stumbled. Goyle sent a Bludgeoner crashing into his ribs and Harry fell against the counter. Crabbe lunged at him from the floor, driving off his good leg, but Harry twisted away and launched the Black Plague Curse back at him. Crabbe collapsed, his body convulsing. Behind him, Goyle froze.

Harry didn't.

Screams filled the room when Goyle's shins exploded in a cloud of blood, sinew, and bone. He toppled into an end table, snapping it in half. Harry followed with a Stunner before Goyle hit the floor, then hit him with three Incarcerous and a Rennervate Spell.

"You destroyed my legs!"

"You're observant."

A fresh wave of pain must have hit him because he screamed again. "The Dark Lord's going to kill you for this!" Goyle rasped once he caught his breath.

Harry laughed. "I hope so; the bastard hasn't beaten me yet."

Goyle narrowed his eyes and it looked like he almost— "Potter?"

"Very good," he mocked. Harry levitated the other Death Eaters into the center of the room and laid them next to each other. The Plague Curse Harry used on Crabbe had turned his fingers and nose black with gangrene, blood seeped from orifices, marking his clothes red. Dieter lay next to him, unconscious, but still moaning from the acid eating his body away. The two witches were placed next to each other, immobilized and wide-eyed, and the Hufflepuff still pressing a hand against the wound on her neck. "So, will Riddle avenge everyone here, or just you?" Harry asked Goyle.

"Who?"

"Tom Riddle, Voldemort, the supposed Dark Lord. I take it every person here has the Dark mark?"

Goyle smirked. "Yeah, every one of us, good job pissing off the most powerful wizard in the world."

"I haven't even begun to piss him off, yet." Harry faced the pile of Death Eaters. "Go back to your master. Tell him you saw me, that you saw Death, and that I am coming for him. Avada Kedavra!"

Crabbe's body spasmed once, then ceased moving.

"Tell him that I am tired of his followers mocking me, calling themselves Death Eaters. Avada Kedavra!"

Dieter's whimpering ceased.

"Tell your master that he will fail his name, he will not flee my presence. Avada Kedavra!"

Jacqueline's wide eyes froze as they were, staring straight at him.

"And when I catch him. I will devour him. Avada Kedavra!"

The Hufflepuff witch's hand fell from her neck. Blood seeped from the cursed wound into the carpet where she lay.

Harry slowly turned back to Goyle. "And I'll enjoy the taste of the seventh part of his soul, the last in existence."

His wand came up of its own will and Harry ached and hungered and lusted for another kill. Yes! Yesss! the Horcrux hissed.

Live according to your name! a dark Voice exhorted deep within him.

No! Goyle must live, Harry argued, beating back the desire.

Why? both voices demanded.

Harry glared at the worthless rubbish lying before him. Because someone has to tell the others. Because we will feed them with fear, with uncertainty, and with doubt, and then we hunt them one-by-one, savoring the taste of their deaths.

Then we can wait, and enjoy the hunt, the Horcrux agreed.

But not for long, the Voice added.

A wave of fear and nausea overtook Harry. From where had these thoughts come? The Horcrux he understood, but that Voice, and his own answer . . . that wasn't how a fifteen-year-old thought, was it?

Harry pushed it away and looked again at the sad excuse of a wizard before him, and he heard Pansy's voice again, telling him of all the despicable things about which they'd bragged. "So, how many young girls have you raped?"

"What does it matter?" Goyle asked.

Harry shrugged. "As many as Crabbe?"

"No!"

Was Goyle showing a hint of intelligence? Doubtful. He snorted, then nodded to the dead witch lying on the floor. "You were at least wizard enough to rape more than her, right?"

"She wouldn't help! And the Kraut pricks were too prissy."

"Is that so?" Harry hovered over the Death Eater. "That reminds me, I have another message for your lot."

"What's that?"

He grinned. "Confringo!" The Blasting Curse pierced Goyle's robes and detonated. He screamed, cupping what remained of his scrotum. It took three more Rennervate Spells to wake him up again.

"A warning. I will emasculate the next Death Eater that I hear has raped someone. Do you know what that means?"

Goyle shook his head, his pupils dilated in pain.

"It means a Cutting Curse, rather than a Blasting Curse, and I aim an inch higher . . . two in your case. Understand?"

Goyle nodded.

One thing remained before Harry could leave. He cast another Piercing Spell, this one at the ceiling, then aimed through the hole: "Figuli Morsmordre." The green charm climbed toward the sky, transforming into a smoky wisp below the clouds.

X ~ X ~ X ~ X

Harry sat atop the roof again and stared at the Dark Mark that hovered in the remaining twilight. When it first appeared, it ignited a frenzy in both Knockturn and Diagon Alleys. People ran away, screaming for loved ones until someone paid closer attention:

"That's not the same mark!" someone shouted.

"What's not the same?" another asked.

"The mark! I just said that!"

"Then what is it?" a third said.

"How would I know?"

"Has anyone seen it before?" a fourth voice cut asked. Harry lost track of who was speaking at that point.

"I haven't."

"Neither have I."

"What could it mean?"

"I have no idea."

"Wait, look! Above the eye!"

"There's nothing there."

"The other eye, you feckless wonder."

"Is that a scar?"

"It is!"

"Where's the snake? The Dark Mark always had a snake."

"Then what is it, if it's not the Dark Mark?"

"Think, you muppet! There's a lightning bolt!"

"It couldn't be!"

"Damn right it could be!"

"Does that mean Harry Potter's still alive?"

"No! It means he's gone on the offensive! He's fighting the Death Eaters!"

Silence.

One heart beat.

Two heartbeats.

Three heartbeats.

The alleys below erupted in cheers that shook the buildings. Cracks of Disapparation announced that the news was already being spread throughout Britain. Then others Apparated in to see the mark for themselves, and left just as fast.

Harry caught sight of Pansy stepping out of her store. Something about her demeanor told him that she knew it was coming, even though she seemed surprised. It was an odd mix. Beyond her stood Death Eaters keeping track of the crowds. Every once in a while, they snuck a glance at the sky, and their bodies tensed every time they did so.

The Numbing charm didn't last long and the pain from his broken arm demanded that he deal with it. As soon as the streets cleared, he climbed off the roof and started toward Diagon Alley. Every step was a sledgehammer, pounding his shattered arm. He tried another Numbing Charm, but it was useless, and at this point, he couldn't focus enough to use a Healing Spell. Apparating in this condition guaranteed a splinch, so he just crept along the shadows under his invisibility robe, hoping that he'd find help somewhere.

That somewhere was two-buildings down on Diagon Alley, where a striking, black-haired witch went about her job sweeping the patio in front of her store. Jaycinda McAlvoy was Slytherin, but she risked her life to protect firsties from Death Eaters according to Susan and Cho, and Harry didn't have much of a choice either way.

She laid her broom aside and started rearranging chairs, four to a table.

Harry eased closer to the ice cream parlor, wincing with each step. He waited by the entrance until she finished.

Jaycinda put the last chair in place and cast a spell to keep them secure until morning, then opened the door. Harry followed close behind, and was almost through when she threw her arms in the air. "The broom!" She spun around. "For the love of Mor—" But Harry couldn't move fast enough, and she smacked into him, still under his robe. He landed against the doorframe with his fractured arm and howled in pain. Blackness threatened to overtake him. He fought to keep conscious.

Jaycinda snatched his cloak off him, her wand already in her other hand and leveled at his throat. She marched him deeper into the dining room, then shoved him into a chair. "Who are you. Tell me or I'll kill you here and now."

Well, that wasn't the way the usual opening question went. "Jaycinda?"

Her jaw grew firm. "You must be stupid. I said to identify yourself, not me. Last chance."

Harry combed his fingers through his hair, pulling it back from his forehead. "Does this help?"

"You look familiar, but . . ." Her eyes went wide and she gasped. "No, it can't be, it—they said you were . . . Bloody hell! It's you! It's really you! Yes!" She danced in a little circle. "YES! YES! YES!"

"Finished?" he asked when she faced him again.

"Yes . . . no!" She danced around again, and Harry couldn't help but notice that she took very good care of her body.

Jaycinda finished her little dance "All right, so what do you need?"

He raised an eyebrow, but the effect was lost when he grimaced from another wave of pain. "That trusting?"

"Nope." She grinned. "But between that charm that everyone's calling 'the Potter's Mark,' and the curse scar on your forehead, there's no doubt you're Harry Potter. And, there's absolutely no chance that you're working with You-Know-Who."

That made sense, but what if . . . "Polyjuice?"

"Doesn't work on curse-scars."

Despite his pain, Harry smirked. "It'll hide them."

It was her turn to raise an eyebrow. "Where would . . . Merlin's arse! It was you! You Polyjuiced yourself into Slytherin over Christmas hols one year, didn't you?"

His insides clutched at the memory of Ron. "It seems like a long time ago."

"It does," she agreed. "How did you get hurt?"

"Bone Breaker, and it got me pretty good."

Jaycinda glanced over her shoulder. "Hold on." She walked to the front and cast a series of Locking Charms on the door, then hit the two large windows with an Occulting Spell that threw the room into darkness. Candles that floated along all four walls flamed to life. With a wave of her wand, six candles floated over and surrounded them.

"Don't you know Healing Charms?"

"A few, but I'm in enough pain that I'm liable to botch it and make the entire arm disappear."

"Hmm." She smiled. "We wouldn't want another Lockhart incident, now would we? Better let me give it a try." Delicate fingers wrapped around his wrist and she tried to move it. "Sticking Charm?"

"I forgot, sorry."

"You forgot about a spell you cast on yourself? Yeah, maybe you shouldn't be messing with Healing Charms right now." She canceled the charm and his arm dropped into his lap. He grunted from the newest wave of nausea that passed through him.

Jaycinda waited until he gained color in his cheeks again, then began her examination.

"What's that . . ." She touched the back of his arm, and he hissed in pain. "No wonder you're about to pass out." His shirt disappeared with another wave of her wand.

He glanced at the damage and saw Bone and fragments of bone that had punctured through the skin. The room spun and he had to close his eyes and remind himself to breathe.

Jaycinda stood before him again when he reopened them, a playful gleam in her own eyes. "You know, if we were back at Hogwarts, I doubt you'd ever leave the broom closet looking the way you do now." He blushed, and she cackled.

A couple of minutes later, she cast the Healing Charm. Bone ground against bone and his stomach flipped. He gagged, but a tender hand touched the side of his face and held him until the feeling passed.

Better?" she asked.

"I think so."

"Try to move it now."

He did. The muscles were sore, but the agonizing pain was gone.

"Now, lift your arm over your head."

Something sharp ripped through him and he hissed.

"Hmm, I wonder . . ." She slid her fingertips across his chest and down the side, searching for broken ribs, but her touch left a trail of fire across his skin.

He jumped out of his chair and backed away. "Thank you, but I can do this part myself." He pointed his wand and cast the Charm, but his wand-work was sloppy and the Charm hit him with the force of a Bludger, filling his eyes with tears. He grasped the table for support.

Jaycinda shook her head. "Did it hurt?"

"A little."

"Good, you ponce! What was that about?"

"I just . . . " His words caught in his throat. "Nothing."

She crossed her arms. "Most wizards don't mind me touching them."

"I'm not most wizards."

"No, you're not," she agreed, then her eyes widened. "Don't tell me Susan and Cho were right, you're dating that Veela from Beauxbatons, Fleur, I think her name was, aren't you?"

His insides clutched a second time. "I was."

"Past tense?"

He nodded. "She's dead. Killed by Death Eaters."

Her fingertips touched his cheek again. "I'm sorry. I didn't know." She let her hand drop and an uneasy silence passed before she spoke again. "So, what now?"

"I have to leave. If Death Eaters knew I was here, they'd raze this place and kill you."

"I figured that, I meant, where are you going?"

He shook his head. "No offense, but the fewer who know, the safer I'll be."

"Smart." She pulled a chair over and sat. "All right, listen to me. First, you're right to trust very few people, You-Know-Who has spies everywhere. Second, if you need to contact Neville or the others, do it through me, but only if it's important . . . and don't look so surprised, my boyfriend works with Neville."

"Marcus?"

"Yuck!" she said. "Adrian, the hot one. Third, it's dangerous for you to come around here. The next time you're injured, go to a Muggle hospital named after a Saint. If an Order member is stationed there, you'll see a small phoenix on the bottom left corner of the emergency sign. Stand next to it and wait, they'll make contact. It's their job to clean up after you, answering any questions or Obliviating if someone's too curious."

"You're in the Order?"

"Officially, no, I leave that to Neville, but I help when and where I can, like passing on information. Speaking of which, what happened tonight?"

"I decided to celebrate," he said.

Her nose crinkled in confusion. Harry had to admit it was very cute, and he felt horrible for noticing it. "Celebrate what?" she asked.

"The one year anniversary."

Her eyes lit with comprehension. "Who took the brunt of this 'celebration'?"

"Crabbe, a Slytherin named Jacqueline, a Hufflepuff whose name I didn't know, and two Germans, I think."

She pursed her lips. "Crabbe and Goyle are seldom apart, Goyle wasn't there?"

"He was, but I left him alive, I needed a messenger."

"Who was the message for?"

"Who do you think?"

She stared Harry, then shook her head again. "That's a dangerous game. Next time, just kill that rat-bastard Goyle, will you?"

"I almost did."

"Good, animals like that don't deserve to live."

The malice in her voice told Harry this was personal. "What did he do?"

"My half-sister lives in Muggle England with her father. A month ago, Goyle killed her best friend, after doing a few others things that I don't want to think about. Adrian almost caught him, but Goyle took a Muggle hostage and Disapparated. The next morning they found the Muggle's remains strewn about Knockturn Alley."

"Back up, a few other things?"

Her nostrils flared. "Use your imagination."

He swallowed back the bile at the mental picture that leaped into his head. "Then you'll be glad to know that I castrated him tonight."

A righteous grin spread across her lips. "Literally?"

"Yeah."

"That's the best news I've heard in a long time!" She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. "That's for my sister, maybe she'll sleep through the night, now." Jaycinda took a deep breath and focused. "Okay, you need to leave London for a couple of weeks. Whenever Neville and the others hit a place, Death Eaters flood the area for at least that long, hoping to catch them coming back. Where are you staying?"

"Around."

"I'm impressed. Keep it up and you just might live through this war. In the back, there's meats and a few loaves of bread, plus a bag that's hanging on the door. Fill it with anything you want, then, when you're ready, we'll leave through the back door and Apparate together."

"Thank you."

"Remember to stay safe and kick some—"

Someone hammered on the front door; Jaycinda pointed to the back and threw Harry's shirt at him.

"We're closed, can't you read the sign?"

"Either let us in or we'll force our way, it's up to you."

"All right, All right, hold on. Let me get this ice cream goop off my hands. Damn wretched half-bloods can't eat it without making a blooming mess." She winked at Harry, who was watching from the pantry doorway behind the kitchen, then levitated something to him before making her way to the door.

How did he forget his wand? Harry snatched it out of the air. He'd made so many mistakes tonight that it was surprising he wasn't dead. Harry focused on the conversation and didn't recognize the new voices, but the masks and robes told him all he needed to know. Jaycinda stepped back from them, and he was sorely tempted to launch a couple of Killing Curses at the Death Eaters, but he managed to resist.

Jaycinda put her hands on her hips. "I'm a pureblood Slytherin you limp-dick. Why would I help a blood-traitor . . . no, I was helping my little sister and her Slytherin friends that night. . . Well, what should I have done? Let the Mudbloods and Half-bloods kill them with their incompetence? . . . That's what I thought, so, are we finished? . . . Good! Thank you." She shut the door behind them and locked it, then rested her head against the frame.

In the back, Harry relaxed against a counter, then spotted the bag she'd mentioned. He piled food in it before making his way back to the dining area. "Mudbloods and Half-bloods killing them with incompetence?"

Jaycinda straightened a table, then peered over it at him. "Don't tell me you believed that—"

He waved her off. "You said what was necessary; I know you helped more than a few Muggle-borns that night. Ready to leave?"

"Yes, but I've changed our plans. We'll Apparate from the back of the store straight to my apartment and land on my covered porch, then you can Apparate to wherever from there."

Harry replayed her conversation with the Death Eaters in his head. Did she have time to arrange something? Was there a keyword exchanged? Her reasons sounded valid enough, but—

"You're doubting me," she interrupted.

"Why can't we Apparate somewhere else?"

"Mr. Fortescue keyed me into the wards last summer. It's the way he had them built."

A simple lie is the easiest, he remembered, but if she wanted to turn him over to Voldemort, it would've been easier when he was still injured.

"Here," she said, holding up her arm. "Stand behind me and take it. When we arrive, push me away and Disapparate . . . matter of fact, it'll be better this way."

"Why's that?"

"If anyone's watching, they'll think you were using me to escape." She drew her wand. "Wrap your hand around mine so it looks like you're controlling it, then, with your other hand, hold your own wand against my back. Like that, good. Remember, when we get there, push me away, and then leave immediately. I'll turn around and throw a Stunner to make it look good."

She led him to the back where a small square, almost big enough for one person was drawn on the floor. She stepped into it, her toes at the front, then waved him behind her. He tried squeezing in, but the height difference and tight space guaranteed a lot of contact. After a few seconds of jostling into place, he jumped back, growing bright red.

She glanced over her shoulder at him. "You're a teenage wizard, and I still have a firm arse, so enjoy it." She smiled. "But I gotta say, I would've enjoyed a broom closet with you at Hogwarts . . . oh come on!" She grabbed him before he could put more distance between them.

Harry felt like hexing her. "Please, just . . . don't."

Her smile fell. "I didn't mean anything by it."

"It's not that, I . . . It's only been a few weeks since Fleur died, and—" He clamped his mouth shut. How that leaked out he had no idea, but he didn't intend to say anything else.

"And you feel guilty," she continued.

He didn't have to answer.

"Harry, you're having natural reactions to an eighteen year old who takes care of herself, you're not betraying the witch you lost, okay?"

He nodded.

"You must have loved her a great deal."

"I did," he admitted.

She touched his arm. "Then you gave her a wonderful gift. I promise, no more teasing, but we do need to leave. If Death Eaters are watching my apartment and I don't arrive soon, they'll come back, and like you said earlier, the second time won't be near as nice as the first."

He took a deep breath. "All right, let's go."

Jaycinda held up her wand. He wrapped his hand around hers, stepped into the square and pressed his body against hers, then pointed his wand at the base of her neck with his other hand. She turned and the familiar pressing sensation played havoc with his arm and ribs. Then his feet hit the patio and he acted his part, pushing her toward a cushioned chair. He cast a light Stunner that would wear off in a matter of a few seconds, then brought up the image of his cave and turned, but a smile creased his lips at the swearing Jaycinda spewed as he Disapparated. Maybe he went too light on the Stunner.

Three hours later, with his food stored and his hunger sated, he thought over what he'd learned tonight. The chance was small, but Draco just might be Harry's doorway to Voldemort. More important, however, was that he learned that he couldn't trust his spell casting. Harry picked up his wand and tried it again, stopping at the same point on the release move. Why was he forgetting curses? Was he forgetting them? Where did he even learn the Choking Death Curse?

The Horcrux. That's where.

Harry rubbed his face. Talk about unsettling! Maybe not all of Voldemort's knowledge transferred to him. If that were true, then he couldn't trust any of that knowledge in a fight, or the next time, the curse that hit him might be colored green.

Harry stayed awake long into the night. Not that he wanted to, but he knew that Fleur's Maya-blue eyes and the soft voice awaited him in his dreams, begging him not to descend into the darkness, and tonight, he wouldn't be able to return her gaze. She'd know that he failed her. The joy, the high he felt killing those Death Eaters, that was the domain of Dark Wizards, and that was his domain now.

X ~ X ~ X ~ X

"Fleur! Fleur! You have to see this!" Gabrielle ran into Durmstrang's Dining Hall, carrying a bunch of newspapers. The eyes of every wizard in the room followed her, but she didn't seem to care.

"What's got you all a feather?" Médée asked.

"This!" She plopped down a folded newspaper, front side up. "And this, and this, and this." Three more hit the table. "There's more in the library.

"I've seen that before," Azzurra said, pointing to the picture that graced the front page of every newspaper before them. "That's . . ."

"'Arry!" Fleur struggled to breathe. "He did that, look at the scar!"

"What?" Markus snatched it from the table and started reading. "This says it happened two nights ago. Harry killed five Death Eaters before setting off what they're calling the 'Potter Mark.'" He lowered the paper. "That's one hell of a head game he's playing."

Fleur couldn't pull her eyes away from the image; she ran her fingers across it and fought back the tears. "It's starting . . . he's losing himself."

Jaleena, sitting across from her, pushed a half-eaten plate of food aside. "Don't jump to conclusions. Harry's been planning this for a year, right? He's smart, and he's been training as well. So there's no reason to think that he's losing himself. Markus might be right. This could all just be head-games."

"No," Gabrielle said. She was turning whiter by the minute and her hands shook. "Fleur's right." Tears welled in her eyes as she looked at her sister. "Just before 'Arry left, I, I felt something change in him, something that irritated my magic, but I didn't pay attention, then once we heard you were alive, there was too much commotion and I forgot . . . I'm sorry."

Fleur looked back at the papers. A paragraph caught her attention.

Rumors abound concerning a new criminal element in the Wizarding U.K. In the last few weeks, the Ministry has experienced abductions of officials, the murders of five young men and women, and a brutal sexual assault on a sixth that cause a young man to lose his scrotum. What, or more appropriately, who is this criminal element? His name is Death, or so he says, but we know him as Harry Potter.

She dropped the paper. "I'm going to get him."

A strong hand clamped around both of hers and she looked down in surprise. "No, you're not," Markus said. "Not yet."

She yanked them from his grip. "Like hell I'm not!"

"You're not ready," he answered. "What happens if you die over there? Who'd save Harry?"

That caught her short. A growl escaped and she set her jaw. "Fine. You have two weeks. Teach me whatever you think I need, then I'm gone."

He opened his mouth to argue, but she raised an eyebrow in challenge. A quick look at the other three Veela—four if he included Gabby—showed nothing but support for Fleur.

Markus threw his fork to the table. "Damn Veela! Hex you all!" He stepped back from them, then pointed at Fleur. "You have ten minutes to be in the training room, and we're not stopping until the sun drops below the mountain or I knock your ass back into Torpor, I'm pushing for the latter."

Every Veela in the Dining Hall gasped.

"Markus!" Azzurra flushed in anger.

He spun on her. "Shut it! Fleur might as well kiss her ass goodbye if she can't beat me, and I'd rather her be in Torpor than a grave!" He stormed off, slamming the doors to the Dining Hall behind him. The sound cut through what conversations remained, leaving silence in his wake.

"What was that all about?" Fleur asked.

Azzurra chewed her lip. "I've never seen him that angry. I know he thinks of Harry as a little brother, but . . . Jaleena?"

Jaleena put a hand on Fleur's. "It was very fast, but I think he's afraid of betraying Harry by giving you just enough confidence to die, at least that's part of it."

"And the other part?" Fleur asked.

Jaleena looked to Azzurra, who nodded back. "He's starting to care for you like he does me and Médée. Since he's accepted Azzurra's mark and Harry's accepted yours, it's bound to happen. We've all grown so close. . ."

Azzurra got to her feet. "Go get changed. I'll find Markus and make sure he doesn't blast the Veela out of you. Jaleena, Médée, you might as well skip class and come along, pick up Professor Sorina and the Headmaster along the way if possible. Markus'll want us all to help, you too, Gabby." She shook her head. "This is setting up to be a very long two weeks."