AvatarCat13: I'm gonna hate this chapter, and do you know why? It'll because of Pugface F**kin' Parkinson.

Harry: I never liked her at all in my Hogwarts years. She was all loud and no brains. Plus, she always made fun of me and Hermione. And did you know that she led all the Slytherins into singing "Weasley Is Our King?" Plus, she suggested handing me to Voldemort!

AvatarCat13: Slow down with the rant there. I agree with you with all of that, but at least you made a heroic sacrifice of your own. Right?

Harry: Yeah...but it was for everyone, not me. Now I think we better go on with the disclaimer and get it done with.

Disclaimer: AvatarCat13 does not own my series or Warrior Cats. They both belong to J.K. Rowling and Erin Hunter, remember that. And if you don't believe me, look up the other disclaimers of this story.

Uploading Date: May 18, 2013

Both: Enjoy!

...

Balto Comes Back

One good thing about the result of the second mission was that everybody was very keen to hear details of what had happened down at the bottom of the sea. That meant Redstone was finally getting to share Nightfang's place in the spotlight for once.

Nightfang saw that his version of the story changed subtly with every recapping. At first, he gave what seemed like the truth; it matched Fawnwillow's story: Silverstar put all the hostages into a bewitched sleep in Thistleheart's office, first assuring them that they would be safe and would wake up when they were back on land. But a quarter-moon later, Redstone was telling a rather electrifying tale of abduction in which he struggled alone against fifty wild dolphins who had to beat him into obedience before tying him up.

"But I had my tail-wand hidden on my leg," he assured Roseclaw, who looked a lot livelier on Redstone now that he was getting attention and talking to him every time they passed in the halls. "I could've taken those fish-tailed mouse-brains any time I wanted."

"What were you going to do to them, snore in their faces?" Fawnwillow asked irritably. Cats had teased her so much about being the thing that Earthclaw would most miss that she was in a crabby mood.

Redstone's ears flattened against his head, and then, he returned to the bewitched sleep version.

As they entered March, the weather became drier, but cruel winds still skinned their pelts every time they went out onto the grounds. There were interruptions in the post because the owls kept being blown off course. The owl that Nightfang sent to Padfoot with the dates of the Village weekend turned up at breakfast on Friday morning with half its feathers sticking up the wrong way. Nightfang had no sooner torn off his godfather's reply than it took flight, clearly afraid it would be sent outside again.

Like before, this letter was short.

Be at stile at end of road out of the Village (past Dervish and Bangles) at two p.m. on Saturday. Bring as much food with you as you can.

"He made it back?" Redstone asked in disbelief.

"It looks like it," Fawnwillow remarked with a grim nod.

Nightfang hissed tensely, "Shit! I can't believe him...if he's caught..."

Redstone replied, "But he made it this far, though. And it's not like the place is swarming with Dementors anymore."

So Nightfang folded up the letter, thinking. If he was honest with himself, he really wanted to see Padfoot again as long as his godfather was safe. He thus came up to the final lesson of the day (double Potions), feeling much more cheerful than he usually did when descending the steps to the dungeons. But what he saw next puzzled him.

Iceheart and his cronies were standing in a knot outside the classroom door with Pugface's mob of ViperClan she-cats. All of them were looking at something Nightfang couldn't see and sniggering heartily. He guessed that something bad was coming around.

Pugface's ugly mug peered around Monkeytail's broad back as the Golden Trio approached. She pointed at the three cats and giggled nastily, and the knot of ViperClan cats broke up. Nightfang saw that the ugly she-cat had a magazine in her jaws: Warrior Weekly. The moving picture on the front showed a tabby cat smiling toothily and wearing a dunce cap on its head.

"Read this, Granger!" Pugface sneered loudly, tossing the magazine at Fawnwillow, who caught it and looked startled. But at that moment, the dungeon door opened, and Brokenfang beckoned them all inside.

Once they were in, the Golden Trio headed for a table at the back of the dungeon as usual. Once Brokenfang turned his back on them to write the ingredients of today's potion on the chalkboard, Fawnwillow hastily rifled through the magazine under the desk. At last, in the center pages, she found what they were looking for, and the toms leaned in closer.

A color photograph of Nightfang headed a short piece entitled:

Nightfang Potter's Secret Heartache

A cat like no other, yet suffering the usual pangs of adolescence, writes Tansy Skeeter. Robbed of love since the tragic death of his parents, fourteen-year-old Nightfang Potter thought he had found comfort in his sturdy mate at the Forest, kittypet-born Fawnwillow Granger. Little did he know that he would shortly suffer another emotive blow in a life littered with personal loss.

Granger, a plain but ambitious cat, seems to have a taste for famous warriors that Nightfang cannot satisfy. Since the arrival at the Forest of Earthclaw Krum, German Seeker and hero of the last World AirBall Trophy, Granger has been messing with both toms' affections.

Krum, who is openly smitten with the deceitful Granger, has invited her to visit him in Germany over the greenleaf holidays and insists that he has "never felt this way about any other she-cat before."However, it might not be Granger's disbelieving natural charms that have captured these unlucky toms' interest.

"She's ugly," Pugface Parkinson, a she-cat at the Forest, told me. "But she'd be well up to making a Love Potion since she's quite brainy. I think she's done it."

Love Potions are banned at the Forest, and no doubt Silverstar Dumbledore will want to examine these claims. In the meantime, Nightfang Potter's supporters must hope that, next time, he gives his heart on a worthier contender.

"See!" Redstone hissed at Fawnwillow as she stared down at the article. "I told you not to annoy Tansy! She's made you out to be some sort of...prostitute!"

Fawnwillow stopped looking surprised and began laughing. "Prostitute?" she repeated, shaking with stifled giggles as she looked around at him.

Redstone shuffled his forepaws. "It's what Mom calls them."

"If that's the best she can do, she'll have to do better than that," Fawnwillow giggled as she threw Witch Weekly onto the empty chair beside her. "It's a load of fox-dung."

She looked at the ViperClan cats, most watching her and Nightfang across the room to see if they distressed them with the article. Fawnwillow just gave them a sarcastic smile and a wave, and she and the two toms started unloading the ingredients needed for their Wit-Sharpening Potion.

Ten minutes later, Fawnwillow held her pounder over a bowl of stag beetles. She muttered, "There's something fishy, though. How could Tansy have known about it?"

"Known what?" Redstone asked. "HAVE you been making Love Potions?"

"No," Fawnwillow snapped, starting to pound her beetles again. "It's just...how did she know Earthclaw asked me to visit him in greenleaf?" She blushed scarlet as she said this and firmly avoided her friend's wary eyes.

Redstone dropped his pestle with a loud clunk. "What?"

"He asked me after he pulled me out of the sea after he was back to normal," Fawnwillow muttered. "Poppyleaf gave us both blankets, and then he pulled me away from the judges so they wouldn't hear, and he said that if I wasn't doing anything over greenleaf, would I like to-"

"What did you say?" Redstone asked, picking up his pestle and grinding it on the desk because he was looking at her.

Fawnwillow went so red that Nightfang almost felt the heat from her. "And he said he never felt the same way about anyone else, but how could Tansy have heard him? She wasn't there...or was she? Maybe she got an Invisibility Pelt and sneaked onto the grounds to watch the mission."

"What did you say?" Redstone repeated, pounding his rod so hard that it made a dent.

"Well, I was too busy seeing whether you guys were okay to-"

"Fascinating though your social life is, Miss Granger..." an icy voice hissed behind them, and all three cats jumped, "...do not discuss it in my class. Ten points from LionClan."

Brokenfang had arrived while they were talking. The whole class was now looking around at them, and Iceheart took the chance to flash POTTER STINKS across the dungeon at said cat. Nightfang glared back at him before looking back.

"Reading magazines under the table as well?" Brokenfang added, snatching up the article. "A further ten points from LionClan...but of course..." His dark tawny eyes glittered as they fell on Tansy Skeeter's article. "Potter has to keep up with his press cuttings."

The dungeon fell silent, and to Nightfang fury, he began to read the article aloud. "'Nightfang Potter's Secret Heartache'...dear Potter, what's troubling you now? 'A cat like no other...'"

Nightfang felt his face burn. Brokenfangwas pausing at the end of every sentence to allow the ViperClan cats a hearty snicker. The article sounded worse when read by Brokenfang, and Fawnwillow was blushing scarlet now.

"...Potter's supporters must hope that, next time, he gives his heart upon a better contender.' How touching," Brokenfang sneered, rolling up the magazine to continued laughter from his Clan. "Well, I shall separate the three of you so you can keep your minds on your class rather than on your twisted love lives. Weasley, you stay here. Granger, over there beside Miss Parkinson. Potter, that table in front of my desk. Move. Now."

Furious, Nightfang threw his stuff into his pot and dragged it up to the front of the dungeon to the empty table. Brokenfang followed, sat down at his desk, and watched the young black cat unload his pot. Determined not to give him the satisfaction of humiliating him, Nightfang continued to mash beetles, imagining each one being Brokenfang.

"All this attention seems to have inflated your fat skull Potter," Brokenfang hissed quietly once the class settled down again.

Nightfang didn't answer. He knew Brokenfang was trying to provoke him, no doubt he was hoping for an excuse to take around fifty points from LionClan before the end of the class. So he just kept quiet about it.

"You might be under the delusion that the entire warrior world is impressed with you," the dark tabby went on so quietly that no one could hear him. "But I don't care how many times your picture appears in the papers. To me, Potter, you are just a nasty little cockroach who considers rules to be beneath him."

Nightfang tipped the beetles (which were already crushed) into his pot and started cutting up his ginger roots. His paws were now shaking slightly out of anger, but he kept his eyes down as if he couldn't hear those words.

"And yet...well done on your quite exemplary performance," he went on sarcastically, his eyes glittering and his voice softer. "And I've heard you've even used some gillyweed...clever...not something you would see in your everyday garden. Nor is this." Nightfang saw Brokenfang draw out a small crystal bottle of a completely clear potion. "Do you know what this is, Potter?"

"Grape juice?" Nightfang asked in a snarky tone.

Brokenfang meowed, his voice now becoming more dangerous, "Veritaserum: a Truth Potion so powerful that just three drops would even have the Dark Bear himself spilling his innermost secrets for the class to hear. Now the use of this potion on an apprentice is lamentably forbidden, but unless you stop stealing from my office, then you might just find my paw...slipping right over your evening grape juice."

"I haven't stolen anything," Nightfang replied calmly.

"Don't lie," Brokenfang hissed, his dark eyes boring into Nightfang's eyes. "You were out of bed on the night my office was broken into! Moody might be on your side, but I will not tolerate your behavior! Gillyweed may be common, but boomslang skin? I know you and your friends are making some Polyjuice Potion, and I WILL find out how."

Nightfang stared back, determined not to blink or look guilty. He actually hadn't stolen either of these things. Fawnwillow had taken the boomslang skin in their second year, for they needed it for the Polyjuice Potion, and while Brokenfang guessed it was Nightfang at the time, he had never proved it. But Bobby and Toadfall, of course, had stolen the gillyweed.

But he said nothing. He turned back to his ginger roots, picked up his knife, and started cutting them again with his claws. He didn't like the sound of the Truth Potion at all, nor would he put it past Brokenfang to slip him some. He stifled a shudder at what might come spilling out of his mouth if he did it...quite apart from landing lots of innocents in trouble, Fawnwillow and Bobby for a start. There were all the other things he was hiding, like he was in contact with Padfoot, and how he felt about Rainleaf (he felt sick on the inside). He tipped his ginger roots into the pot too and wondered if he would start drinking only from a private hip flask like Mad-Eye.

There was a knock on the door, and Brokenfang meowed in his usual voice, "Enter."

The class looked around as the door opened, and Coldstar came in. Everyone watched him as he walked up toward the front desk. He was twitching his tail tip and looking agitated.

"We need to talk," Coldstar meowed abruptly when he had reached the main desk. He seemed so resolute that nobody should hear him that he was barely opening his lips; it was as though he was an illiterate parrot. Nightfang kept his green eyes on his ginger roots, listening hard.

"I'll talk to you after my lesson, Karkaroff," Brokenfang muttered.

But Coldstar interrupted him, "I want to talk now. You've been avoiding me, I know you have."

"I said after the lesson," the dark tabby repeated with a snap.

Under the excuse of holding up a measuring cup to see if he poured out enough bile, Nightfang stole a glance at the pair of them. Coldstar looked very worried, and Brokenfang looked angry.

The slick silver tabby hovered behind Brokenfang's desk for the rest of the class. He seemed determined to prevent him from slipping away at the end of class. Keen to hear what the leader of the Mountain wanted to say, Nightfang knocked over his bottle of mouse bile with two last minutes to go, which gave him an excuse to duck behind his pot and mop up while the rest of the class moved toward the door.

"All right, Karkaroff. What's so urgent?" he heard Brokenfang hissed.

"This," Coldstar mewed. Nightfang, peering around his pot, saw Coldstar lift up his right leg's fur and show Brokenfang something on his inner forearm. "Well? Do you see? It's never been this clear, never since-"

Brokenfang looked around and spat, "Put that away!"

Coldstar began, "But you must have surely noticed-"

"We'll talk later!" Brokenfang spat. Turning around, he hissed, "Potter! What are you doing?"

"Clearing up the bile, sir," Nightfang mewed innocently, straightening up and showing him the soaked rag he was holding.

Coldstar turned and strode out of the dungeon, looking worried and angry. Not wanting to stay alone with a very angry Brokenfang, Nightfang tossed his stuff back into his bag and left at top speed to tell his friends what he had just observed.

...

They left the castle at sunhigh the next day to find the sun shining down upon the grounds. The weather was milder than it was all year, and by the time they arrived in the Village, all three cats took of their capes and draped them over their shoulders. The food Padfoot told them to bring along was in Nightfang's bag; they had sneaked a dozen tuna, a loaf of bread, a few cookies, and a flask of grape soda from the lunch table.

They went into Glad Rags Warrior Clothes to buy a gift for Bobby, where they had fun selecting the most bright scarves they could find, including one patterned with flashing gold and silver stars, and another that screamed loudly when they became too foul. Nightfang knew Bobby had helped him out a lot during the second mission, so the lemur deserved a reward. Then, thirty minutes, they made their way up High Street, past Dervish and Bangles, and out toward the edge of the village.

Nightfang had never gone this way before. The snaky lane led them out into the wild scenery around the Village, around a coniferous forest. The cottages were fewer here, and their gardens were larger; they were walking toward the foot of the mountain in whose shadow the Village lay under. Then they turned a corner and saw a stile at the end of the lane...and waiting for them, its front paws on the top bar, was a large shaggy black wolf-dog. It was carrying some newspapers in its mouth and looking very familiar.

"Hey Padfoot," Nightfang purred as they had reached him, rubbing the wolf-dog's muzzle with his own. This was a way for cats to show affection for a friend, family member, or lover...and they can do this in real life.

The black wolf-dog sniffed his bag eagerly, wagged its tail once, then turned and began to sprint away across the scrubby patch of ground that rose to meet the rocky foot of the mountain. So the Golden Trio climbed over the stile and followed, keeping an eye out on any local wolves or bears or even Twolegs.

Padfoot led them to the foot of the mountain, where the ground was covered with boulders and rocks. It was easy for him, with being bigger and stronger than them, but the three cats were soon out of breath, yet they followed him higher onto the mountain itself. For nearly half an hour, they climbed a steep, winding, and stony path, following Padfoot's wagging tail, the shoulder straps of Nightfang's bag cutting into his shoulders. Even the mountain goats, big white shaggy beasts, had come to watch them before going about their business.

At last, Padfoot slipped away, and when they reached the place where he vanished, they saw a narrow crack in the rock. They squeezed into it and found themselves in a cool dim cave, a small stream in the middle. Tied at the end of it, one end of his rope around a rock, was Buckbeak the hippogriff. Half gray horse, half bald eagle, his fierce orange eye flashed at the sight of them. All three bowed low to him, and after viewing them superiorly for a moment, Buckbeak bent his knees and let Fawnwillow to rush forth and pat his feathery neck. Nightfang looked over at the black wolf-dog, which had just turned into his godfather.

Padfoot was wearing a ragged gray cape, the same one he wore when he had left Alcatraz. His dark tabby pelt was longer than it was when he had appeared in the fire, and it was untidy and matted once more. And to top it off, he looked very skinny.

"Tuna!" he rasped gruffly, removing the old papers and throwing them down onto the cave floor. Nightfang pulled open his bag and handed over the bundle of tuna, cookies, and bread.

Padfoot opened it, grabbed a piece of tuna, and tore off a large chunk with his fangs. "Thanks. I've been living off mice and fish. Can't steal too much food from the Village, though. But hey, there's always salmon to eat at the falls, though they're quicker than mice."

He grinned up at his godson, but Nightfang returned the smile only reluctantly and asked, "What're you doing here, Padfoot?"

"Being your godfather," Padfoot replied, chewing the tuna. "Don't worry; I'm just pretending to be a loveable stray." He was still smiling, but seeing the anxiety in his godson's face, he meowed more seriously, "I want to be serious about this, though. Your last letter...let's just say things are getting stranger. I've stolen the paper every time someone throws one out, and by the looks of things, I'm not the only one who's worried."

He nodded at the old papers on the cave floor, and Redstone picked them up and unfolded them. Nightfang, however, continued to look over at Padfoot, asking, "But what'll happen if they catch you? What if you're seen?"

Padfoot shrugged and tore into another tuna. "You three and Silverstar are the only ones around here who know I'm an Animagus. So there's nothing to worry about for now."

Redstone nudged Nightfang and pawed to him the old newspapers. There were two, the first bearing the headline Mystery Illness of Crouchfoot Crouch, the second saying something about the Government warrior still missing. And it even said that the Governor of Warriorism was now personally involved.

Nightfang scanned the story about Crouchfoot, his eyes narrowing. Phrases jumped out at him: Hasn't been seen since November...house deserted...St. Mongo's Clinic for Magical Malaises and Wounds refuse comment...Government refuses to settle rumors of serious illness...

"They make it sound like he's dying," Nightfang meowed. "But he can't seriously be that sick if he managed to get up here."

"My brother's his assistant," Redstone told Padfoot. "He says he's suffering from overwork."

Nightfang read through the story some more. "The last time I saw him, he looked ill, last time I saw him up close. The night my name came out of the Trophy..."

"Looks like he's finally getting his just deserts for firing Twinkies," Fawnwillow remarked, a flippant edge to her voice as she patted Buckbeak, who picked up the scraps. "I bet he wishes he hadn't done it now; bet he feels the difference now she's not there to look after him."

Redstone gave the light tabby a dark look while muttering to Padfoot, "She's recently become obsessed with lemurs."

Padfoot, however, looked very interested. "Crouchfoot fired his lemur?"

"Yeah, at the World Trophy," Nightfang meowed, telling the story of the Dark Mark's arrival, Twinkies being found with a tail-wand in her hand, and Crouchfoot's fury. When Nightfang was done, Padfoot got to his paws again and had started striding up and down the cave.

"Let me get this straight," he meowed after a while. "You first saw the lemur in the Top Box, right? She was saving him a seat?" At a nod, he added, "But Crouchfoot didn't turn up?"

"No," Nightfang replied, shaking his head. "I think he said he's been too busy."

Padfoot paced all around the cave. "And Nightfang, did you check your bag for your tail-wand after you left the Top Box?"

Nightfang thought hard. "Er...no. I didn't need it before we got in the forest. And then I got into my bag, and all that was in there were my Omni-binoculars. Are you saying whoever fabricated the Mark stole my tail-wand in the Top Box?"

"It's possible," Padfoot meowed with a grim nod.

"But Twinkies didn't steal that tail-wand!" Fawnwillow insisted.

Padfoot waved his paw around as he continued to patrol the cave. "I know that. But I know for sure that the lemur wasn't the only one in that box. Who else was sitting behind you?"

"Other cats," Nightfang mewed, ticking the names with each flicks of his tail. "Some German Governors, Fudgepelt, and the Malfoy cats."

"The Malfoy cats!" Redstone meowed so loudly that his voice echoed all around the cave, and Buckbeak tossed his head nervously. "I bet it was Blizzardclaw!"

"Anyone else?" Padfoot asked.

Fawnwillow spoke up, "There was also Graytail Bagman."

Padfoot was still pacing. "I don't know anything about that guy except that he used to be a Thrasher for the Baltimore Bats in Maryland. So what's he like?"

Nightfang shrugged. "He's okay. He keeps offering to help me with the tournament."

"Really?" Padfoot asked, frowning. "Why would he do that?"

"I don't know," Nightfang admitted. "He says he likes me."

"We saw him in the woods before the Dark Mark appeared," Fawnwillow told the dark brown tabby. "Remember?"

Redstone added, "Yeah, but the moment we told him about the mutiny, he went haring off to the campsite."

Fawnwillow stared at him with suspicion. "How'd you know where he Disapparated to?"

Redstone asked skeptically, "Are you saying you think Graytail conjured the Dark Mark?"

"I'm just saying; it's just more likely he did it than Twinkies," Fawnwillow replied stubbornly. "A cat would more likely have done it instead of a lemur."

"Told you she's obsessed with-" Redstone tried to meow implicitly to Padfoot.

But Padfoot raised his tail for silence and meowed, "When the Dark Mark had been conjured, and the lemur was caught holding Nightfang's tail-wand, what did Crouchfoot do next?"

"He went to look in the bushes," Nightfang answered. "But there wasn't anyone there."

"Of course there wasn't," Padfoot muttered, pacing up and down. "He would want to pin the blame on anyone but his own lemur...and then he fired her?"

Fawnwillow nodded furiously. "Yes! He fired her just because she hadn't stayed in her tent and let herself get trampled and-"

Redstone then snapped, "Will you please shut up about the lemur!"

To their surprise, Padfoot shook his head. "She's got the better measure of Crouchfoot, Redstone. If you want to know what a cat is like, look at how he treats his minions, not his equals."

He scratched at his ear with a hind paw, evidently thinking hard. "Crouchfoot leaving...he goes to the trouble of making sure his lemur saves him a seat at the World Trophy, but then he doesn't bother to turn up and watch. He works very hard to reintroduce the Tri-warrior Tournament, and then he stops coming to that too. It's not like him. If he's ever taken a day off work because of a sickness before this, I'll eat Buckbeak for dinner."

"Do you know him?" Nightfang asked.

Padfoot gave him a glare, suddenly looking as menacing as he was when Nightfang first saw him, the night when he still believed Padfoot to be a killer. Finally, he sighed, "Yep. He gave the order for me to be sent to Alcatraz without a trial."

"What?!" Redstone and Fawnwillow yelped while Nightfang rasped, "You're kidding!"

"Nope," Padfoot meowed, taking another great bite of tuna. "Crouchfoot was the former Head of the Branch of Magical Decree Prosecution, didn't you know that?"

They shook their heads.

Padfoot continued, "He was tipped for the next Governor of Warriorism. He's a great warrior, powerfully magical...and power-crazy. Oh, he didn't support Red Helmet," he added, seeing the look on Nightfang's face. "No, he was always very candid against the Dark Side. But then, there were a whole lot of cats who were against the Dark Side. Well, you three wouldn't understand; you're too young."

"That's what my dad said at the World Trophy," Redstone meowed, a trace of irritation in his voice. "Try us."

A grin flashed across Padfoot's emaciated face.

"All right. Have it your way." He paced around again and then said, "Imagine that Red Helmet's great now. You don't know who his cohorts are, you don't know who's with him and who isn't; you know he can control cats so that they do awful things without being able to stop themselves. You're scared for yourself, your family, and your friends. Every quarter-moon, news comes of more deaths, more losses, more persecuting. The Government's in alarm and don't know what to do, and they're trying to keep things hidden from the Twolegs and kittypets. But they're dying too. Terror everywhere and panic...confusion...that's how it was. Times like that bring out the best in some and the worst in others. Crouchfoot's morals might've been good, but I wouldn't know. He rose quickly through the Government, and he started ordering harsh measures against Red Helmet's supporters. The Aura Cats were given new powers...powers to kill, for example. I wasn't the only one who was handed to the Dementors without trial. Crouchfoot fought violence with violence and let them use Unforgivable Curses against suspects. I'd say he became no better than many on the Dark Side. He had his supporters; plenty thought he was doing the right thing, and there were a lot of warriors clamoring for him to take over as Governor. And then, when Red Helmet disappeared, it looked like the end until Crouchfoot got the top job. But then something rather unfortunate happened."

The dark brown tabby tom smiled grimly. "Crouchfoot's own son, Crouchrunner, was caught with a group of Demon Cats who had talked their way out of Alcatraz. They were trying to find Red Helmet and return him to full power."

"Crouchfoot's son was caught?" Fawnwillow gasped.

"Yep." Padfoot tossed an extra tuna to Buckbeak, sitting back down on the ground beside the bread and tearing it in half. "That'd be a nasty little shock for the old guy. Should've spent more time at home with his family. To me, he should've left the office early once in a while...you know, gotten to know his own son."

He began to scarf down a few large pieces of bread, letting Nightfang ask, "Was his son a Demon Cat, then?"

Padfoot looked up, his mouth full of bread as he swallowed. "No idea. I was in Alcatraz myself when he was brought in. This is stuff I've found out since I broke out. That cat was definitely caught in the company of those I'd bet were Demon Cats. But he might have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, just like Twinkies."

Fawnwillow asked, "Did Crouchfoot try and free his son?" But Padfoot let out a laugh that was much more like a wolf's bark.

"Crouchfoot let his son off? I thought you had the measure of him! Anything that threatened to stain his status had to go; he had devoted his whole life to becoming Governor. You saw him fire a fervent lemur because she linked him with the Dark Mark again; doesn't that tell you what he's like? His fatherly love stretched just far enough to give his son a trial, and according to what was being said, it wasn't much more than an excuse for Crouchfoot to show how much he hated his son...and then he sent him straight to prison."

"He gave his own son to the Dementors?" Nightfang asked, his jaw slightly open.

Padfoot didn't look amused now. "Hell yeah. I saw the Dementors bringing him in, saw them through the bars in my cell door. He wasn't more than nineteen. They took him into a cell near mine. He was crying for his mother by dusk, but then he went quiet after a few days, though; they all went quiet in the end...except when they shrieked in their sleep."

For a moment, the numb look in his gray eyes became more definite than ever, as if the wind had stopped blowing. So Nightfang asked his godfather, "So is he still there?"

"Nope," Padfoot answered dully. "Not anymore. He died a year after they brought him in."

"He died?"

"Yeah, but he wasn't the only one. Most go insane there and stop eating in the end. They lose the will to live. You could always tell when death was coming because the Dementors could smell it, and they got excited. That cat looked pretty ill when he arrived. Crouchfoot being a very vital Government member, he and his mate were allowed to visit his deathbed. That was the last time I saw Crouchfoot, half carrying his mate past my cell. She died apparently shortly after that due to grief. Wasted away like her son. Crouchfoot never even came to see off his son's body. The Dementors buried him outside the fortress, and I saw them do it."

He pushed aside the bread he was going to ear and instead pulled the bowl of the grape soda over to him, lapping up the sweet liquid. "So old Crouchfoot lost it all just when he thought he had it made for him. One moment, a hero ready to become Governor...next, his mate and son dead, the family name dishonored, and a big drop in popularity...or so I've heard since I escaped. Once the young'un died, cats started feeling more sympathetic towards the son and started asking how a nice kid from a good family had gone bad. The conclusion was that his father never cared for him. So Fudgepelt got the top job instead, and Crouchfoot was shoved aside into the Department of Worldwide Magical Teamwork."

There was a long silence. Nightfang looked back at the way Crouchfoot's eyes had bulged as he looked down at his wayward lemur back in the woods at the AirBall World Trophy. This, then, must have been why Crouchfoot made such a big deal to Twinkies being found beneath the Dark Mark. It must have brought back memories of his forgotten son, the old shame, and his downfall at the Government.

"Mad-Eye said Crouchfoot's obsessed with catching evil warriors," Nightfang told Padfoot.

Padfoot nodded. "Yeah, I've heard it's become an obsession with him. If you ask me, he still thinks he can bring back the old status by catching one more Demon Cat."

"And he sneaked up here to search through Brokenfang's office!" Redstone meowed proudly, looking at Fawnwillow smugly.

"That doesn't make sense at all," Padfoot retorted with a frown.

Redstone meowed excitedly, "Yes it does!"

But Padfoot shook his head. "No, if Crouchfoot wants to examine Brokenfang, why hasn't he been coming to judge the tournament? It would be quite an ideal excuse to make regular visits to the Forest and keep an eye on him."

Nightfang had just meowed "So you think Brokenfang's up to something?", when Fawnwillow butted in, meowing, "I don't care what you say. Silverstar trusts him, and we should-"

"Drop it," Redstone meowed impatiently. "I know Silverstar's awesome, but that doesn't mean a really clever evil warrior couldn't fool him."

"Why did Brokenfang save Nightfang's life back in the first year then, huh?" Fawnwillow challenged the ginger tom. "Why didn't he just let him die?"

Redstone shrugged. "I dunno. Maybe he thought Silverstar would send him away."

To stop the arguing, Nightfang asked loudly, "What do you think, Padfoot?"

"I think they've both got a point," Padfoot answered, looking thoughtfully at both cats. "Ever since I found out Brokenfang was teaching here, I've wondered why Silverstar hired him in the first place. He's always been charmed by the Dark Arts, and he was famous for it at school. Smarmy slick greasy-furred kid, he was," he added, and the toms grinned at each other. "He knew more curses when he arrived at school than half the apprentices in seventh year, and he was part of a pack of ViperClan cats who nearly all turned out to be Demon Cats." He flicked his tail a few times and began ticking off names. "Rosier and Wilkes: they were both killed by Aura Cats the year before Red Helmet vanished. The Lestranges: they're mates, and they're both in Alcatraz. Avery: from what I've heard, he weaseled his way out of trouble by saying he was acting under the Imperius Curse; he's still on the loose. But as far as I know, Brokenfang was never accused of being a Demon Cat...not that that means much. Plenty were never caught. And Brokenfang's cunning enough to keep out of trouble."

"He knows Coldstar pretty well, but he wants to keep that quiet," Redstone added.

"Yeah, you should've seen his face when Coldstar turned up in Potions yesterday!" Nightfang meowed quickly. "Coldstar wanted to talk to him and says he's been avoiding him. Then he looked really worried and showed him something on his leg, but I didn't see what it was."

Padfoot looked bewildered. "He did? Well, I don't know what that's about...but if Coldstar's worried, and he's going to Brokenfang for answers..." The dark brown tabby stared at the cave wall and then made a grimace of frustration. "We know that Silverstar trusts Brokenfang, and I know he trusts where others wouldn't; that's one of his most defining traits. But I just can't see him letting Brokenfang teach at the Forest if he ever worked for Red Helmet."

"Why did Mad-Eye and Crouchfoot want to get into Brokenfang's office then?" Redstone asked stubbornly.

"Well..." Padfoot meowed slowly. "I wouldn't put it past Mad-Eye to search every mentor's office when he got to the Forest, and he takes his Defense Against the Dark Arts seriously. I'm not sure he trusts anyone, and after the things he's seen, I'm not surprised. I'll say this for Mad-Eye, though; he never killed if he could help it. Always brought cats in alive. He was tough, but he never stooped low to the level of the Demon Cats. Crouchfoot, though, is another story; is he really ill? If he is, why did he haul himself to Brokenfang's office? And if he's not...what's he up to? What did he do at the World Trophy that was so important he didn't turn up in the Top Box? What was he doing while he should have been judging the tournament?"

He fell into silence, staring at the cave wall. Buckbeak was ferreting around on the rocky floor, looking for scraps he might have overlooked. Finally, Padfoot looked up to Redstone and asked, "You say your brother Sandthorn is Crouchfoot's personal helper, right? You think you could ask him if he's seen Crouchfoot lately?"

"I can try," Redstone replied doubtfully. "But I better not make it sound like I think Crouchfoot is up to anything risky. Sandthorn loves him."

"And you might try and find out if they found Wetnose while you're at it," Padfoot meowed, pulling forth the second copy of the Daily Warrior.

"Graytail told me they hadn't found her yet," Nightfang spoke up.

Padfoot looked over at the paper. "Yeah, he's quoted in the article in there, blabbing on about how bad her memory is. Maybe she's changed since I last saw her, but the Wetnose I knew was NOT forgetful. She was a bit slow on the uptake, but she had an excellent memory for gossip. It used to get her into trouble since she never knew when to keep her mouth shut. I can see her being a bit of a burden at the Government; maybe that's why Graytail didn't bother to look for her for so long." He heaved a big sigh and pawed at his shadowed eyes. "What time is it?"

"Half past three," Fawnwillow told him.

"You better get back," Padfoot meowed, getting up to his paws. Looking hard at his godson, he meowed, "It was nice of you three to visit, but I don't want you sneaking out of school to see me, okay? Just send notes to me here. I still want to hear about anything odd going on. But don't leave without permission; it would be an ideal chance for someone to attack you."

"No one's tried to attack me so far, except a dragon and eels," Nightfang mewed.

But Padfoot scowled at him and replied, "I don't care. I'll be able to breathe freely again when this tournament's over. And if you're talking about me among yourselves out in public, call me Scruffy." He handed Nightfang the empty napkin and canteen and went to pat Buckbeak good-bye. "I'll go to the edge of the village with you: I gotta see if I can scavenge for another paper."

He transformed into the great black wolf-dog before they left the cave, and they climbed back down the mountainside with him, across the rocky ground, and back to the stile. Here, he let them rub against his legs before setting off at a run around the border of the Village. Then the Golden Trio made their way back into the Village and up toward the Forest.

"I wonder if Sandthorn knows all that stuff about his boss?" Redstone wondered as they padded up to the castle. "But maybe he doesn't care. It'd probably just make him admire Crouchfoot even more. Yeah, he loves rules, probably just say he was refusing to break them for his own son."

"Hold up right there. Sandthorn wouldn't throw his family to the Dementors," Fawnwillow argued severely.

Sandthorn shrugged. "I don't know about that. If he thought we're standing in the way of his career...well, he's really ambitious, you know."

The three cats prowled up the stone steps into the entrance hall, where the delicious smells of dinner wafted toward them from the Great Hall. Sandthorn sniffed deeply and sighed, "Poor Scruffy. He must be like you, Nightfang. Imagine having to live off on only mice and fish."

To be continued...

...

AvatarCat13: Well...I'm in a much better mood now.

Harry: That's good. What went wrong today?

AvatarCat13: I wanted to come with my mom to Walgreens to get a little something for watching the house for all these months. But she forgot to take me this morning, and I was upset, especially since I got a chore wrong. But now...I apologized, and all is forgiven.

Harry: Well, I'm glad you're feeling chipper, Avatar Cat. And another question: I saw that there weren't the breeds in the cats' descriptions. How did that happen?

AvatarCat13: I thought it'd be tiring to list each cat's breeds every time unless they get their debut appearance. So I've saved that until later. But anyways, let's go with the review thing. (To the readers) Read and review, everyone! Today is my dog Reesey's birthday and she's four years old, so those who do will get a virtual dachshund plush doll, and it'll be sent to them as soon as you leave a review. I don't allow flames, but advice, questions, and constructive criticism (or all three separately) are allowed as long as it's not harsh.

Both: See ya next time!