AN: Well, after quite a long time here's finally the next chapter. I'm not sure if the updates will come more regularly from now on – university can be a chore – but I'll try my best. For those of you who haven't noticed, I also started a Naruto story called 'Team 7's Ascension'. If your interested in the fandom, why don't you pay it a visit? Perhaps you'll like it.

Now, enjoy!


Magicks of the Arcane

Chapter XXVI


Portree – 16. April 1996

The left hand rested on his bent knee – fist clenched around his wand. The other hand, blood pooling and seeping from underneath his nails, clung to a nearby brick protruding from the wall. Tim Warths eyed it like a lifeline. His chest heaved up and down, but the labored intakes of breath were barely enough to support his need for air.

Specks of grime, dust and blood mixed as trails of sweat traveled down his temples. It stung.

Next to him, rays of sunlight entered the ruined room through a broken window. Dust was flying around wildly in the light; it almost looked playful. Thrice the ground beneath his feet rumbled. Deafening explosions rocked the place. He stumbled forward and his body upset the delicate play of dust and particles.

Tim grimaced and closed his eyes in bitter anticipation. Playful was exactly the opposite of his current situation.

They would find him.

A heavily scarred hand grabbed him by the shoulder and steadied him. He hissed in pain. Over the last few minutes, more than one Blasting Curse had gone awry and with all the shrapnel flying around, it was a miracle that he still lived to feel pain at all. The pressure on his mangled leg lessened – at least for a bit – but his relief didn't last long. Agony lanced through him as he was pulled away from the window and into the darkness.

He bit his lips bloody, they wouldn't get a scream out of him, and turned his head around to look at his hidden assailant. Amber eyes met his gaze. They were opened wide, darting around frantically, and a feeling of pure relief flooded his senses.

His group leader was still alive.

Remus' face was set in an expression of intense concentration and beyond the euphoria at seeing the man, Tim remembered where they were, and what kind of situation they were in. Noise entered his perception, and barely a second later Remus pulled him even further into the shadows. Euphoria left him just as quickly as it had arrived and his pain returned with vengeance.

His mouth was quickly covered by Remus' large hand and although he already saw white spots on the edge of his vision, Tim endured – a single scream, even a small huff could kill both of them. The light that previously shone into the room was suddenly blocked out by a large frame in front of the window.

Panic slithered through Tim's veins, spreading its poison. There was no doubt – this time it wouldn't be his group leader, but an enemy. Was the Death Eater's hearing any good? Could he even hear, hidden behind his mask and dark cowl?

Tim's eyes raced from left to right and back. Any sound could spell his end. No, not just his. Remus', too. He clenched the fist around his wand tighter – the wood was smeared with blood anyway – but instantly rued his action. Still, it was unacceptable for his group leader to die here, especially after all the help he had received from the man since Aberystwyth.

Anger. Fury. Two emotions he hadn't had the luxury of feeling since the uneven battle begun. It was liberating to finally feel them rushing through his blood. The cloaked enemy moved – and once more the all-consuming fear took hold of him. The need for oxygen became crippling; it wouldn't be much longer now.

One...

Two...

Two seconds – a fleeting moment, an eternity. The bulky frame vanished and a third second later, certainly the last one he could have managed, Tim took in large gulps of air. Never had he felt as grateful for humanity's most important reflex as he did at this moment. Behind him, he heard Remus doing the same.

The Death Eater was walking away from the building, and the noise his boots made as they hit the road was like a heavenly choir. Tim wasn't the boy-who-lived, not even in the furthest sense, but in his own way he had survived – at least for the moment. It was more than he had expected back when he joined the illusive Order after Lydia's death.

Nevertheless his nerves were frayed and the battle was, unfortunately, far from over. How long could he hold out like this?

Remus must have sensed his uncertainty, because once more the amber eyes focused on him, looking into his very being. The man might not be as omniscient and powerful as Albus Dumbledore, but he had his own way of searing the soul with a single gaze.

"Silencing Charms. Always the Silencing Charms..." Remus ran his hand through his hair. The brown locks were sweaty and matted with dirt.

Tim looked up. "Huh?"

"Silencing Charms are always the first ones to go," Remus explained. "Better make it a habit to recast them as soon as you get the chance."

"Ah. Right, next ti-"

Again, tremors ran through the building. This time though, Tim managed to stay on his feet, if barely, and Remus favored him with a strained and exhausted smile. It was a bad situation, and it certainly wouldn't get any better with both of them injured; one more than the other, but still injured.

Hiding in the house became more dangerous by the second as each new explosion seemed to destroy it further. Tim followed Remus who slowly crept toward a backdoor on the other side of the room. Both clung to the shadows.

"Your werewolf constitution really is something else," Tim said.

Remus slowed for a moment and chuckled weakly. "Hope that you'll never get to experience the benefits of my condition. I can tell you from experience: the drawbacks outweigh them by far."

Once Remus and Tim had left the house through the backdoor, they found themselves in a shady alley. Remus called for his magic to apparate them away, but just like before it didn't work. The ward Voldemort's followers had erected was vast and complex – definitely not easily broken by an exhausted werewolf.

He glanced at Tim. The boy was barely able to support himself against a wall, let alone walk...

This wasn't what he had expected, nor was it anything the Information Department of the Order had warned him about.

Three groups – fifteen fighters – had appeared in Portree after the Order received notification that several Death Eaters were stirring up trouble. Perhaps it was betrayal, or simply bad luck – nevertheless, three out of four soldiers under Remus' command were dead, killed in the first few chaotic minutes of the battle. The fourth one was alive, barely, but unable to even utter a spell without collapsing.

Something had gone wrong. Horribly so.

He could only hope that Bill's and Arthur's groups fared better than his own.


Grimmauld Place – 16. April 1996

Harry walked through the empty corridors of Grimmauld Place, staring straight ahead at the large double doors that separated him from the Order's chain of command. For more than three months he'd been away – fighting with Goblins, toiling under the mountains – certainly a long time.

Who would it be that greeted him on his return though? Sirius? Moody? Albus, perhaps? More importantly, how would they receive him? Would they be happy for his return, or resentful for the time he took to accomplish his mission?

So far, the only person he had encountered on his march through the headquarters had been a very confused man who neither knew, nor recognized him. That was understandable though. He had changed quite a bit during his stint away from Britain.

Harry pushed the large doors open, and upon stepping through the entrance his lips stretched into a smile. It vanished rather quickly. There he was, his godfather – alive and breathing. Breathing very harshly though.

"We have to send help!" Sirius facial color resembled that of a lobster.

Moody, the victim of Sirius' screaming, looked equally agitated. "We can't," he answered bluntly. "Am I supposed to magic able fighters out of my buttocks?"

"Albus can handle the mop-up in Diagon Alley. Take a group from him and send them to Portree!"

"Don't be daft, Black! Last we heard, Albus' currently engaging Riddle. If we take one of his groups, we'll lose the whole battle!"

Sirius was silent for a moment in the desperate attempt to calm himself and looked intently at the self-updating maps on the table. "What about Chetwin's group in Aberdeen? They should be done about now."

Moody snarled in response. "Should be done about now? Listen to yourself, Black! Chetwin and his men are up against Trolls and Greyback's-"

"Fuck!" Sirius hammered his fist on the wooden table.

Unable to see another group they could send to Portree he turned around, suddenly coming face to face with his lost godson. "Harry?"

"Padfoot." Harry had the sudden urge to hug his godfather, but this clearly wasn't the right moment. Instead, he looked over to Moody. "Problems?"

The grizzled veteran nodded. "Three groups led into an ambush. Last information we got is over twenty minutes old and we've no men to spare."

"No one?" Harry asked and narrowed his eyes. "Hard to believe."

"Believe what you will, boy." Moody grunted and pointed at the maps. "This' not the same kind of war we had the first time 'round. It's bigger. Bloodier. Some days it's peaceful. Some days though we fight five battles at once."

"If no groups are free, then I'll go myself." Sirius had used the time of Moody's explanation to fasten his own battle gear and looked ready to duel Riddle himself.

Immediately, Moody moved in front of Sirius and held him at wandpoint. "You're going nowhere, Black! Your duty is here, coordinating the attacks with me!"

"I'm not letting Remus die. Move."

Sparks lit up at the tip of Sirius' wand and illuminated Moody's face, which had gained quite a few new scars. The atmosphere in the cozy, dimmed room changed considerably. The peg-legged man looked more than ready to stop Sirius from leaving the Order's headquarters.

"Enough."

The Holly Wand fit perfectly in Harry's hand as he performed two horizontal slashes with it – one to the left, and one to the right. Wand movements were, among other things, the envoys of intent. In this case, the abruptness of the motion, or rather the distinction between swishing and slashing became very apparent.

Swishing would have been the gentle way to pry them apart. In this instance though, Harry's wand motions heralded his intent and both men flew to different sides of the room as if grabbed by large, invisible hands.

They needed a short moment to regain their bearings and dignity once separated. Then, both glared at Harry, clearly displeased by his audacity. Harry couldn't care less. As far as he had understood it, a link to his dead parents was in danger – that alone merited a heavy duty response.

"Where's Remus again?" Harry's eyes bored into Moody, daring the older man to withhold the information out of spite.

Sirius was quick to rise from the ground and walked over to his godson. "Harry, there's-"

"Portree," Moody interrupted. He didn't looked at Sirius. "You know where that is, boy?"

"Mad-Eye! Don't you-"

Harry switched his wand to the left and unsheathed the Sword of Gryffindor with his right. "I do." He turned to his godfather. "Don't worry, Padfoot. I'll be back soon. Hed."

Sirius tried to reach out to him, but Harry had already vanished in a column of fire.


Portree – 16. April 1996

One day there would be a reckoning between him and Riddle's forces. This much Harry had known from the beginning. Such an accounting though would come far sooner than there would be any justice brought to the devil himself. In any case, after Albus revealed the prophecy there had never been any doubt as to his place in the war to come.

From then on it had been clear – he would fight. On the front lines, against Death Eaters and against every dark creature that had made the pact with Riddle. Everyone who stood in the way of his revenge against Voldemort was to be fought with extreme prejudice.

Not the path Albus wanted him to take; definitely not. He wasn't Albus though and the three months with Harlecrack had left more than just a few physical marks on him. Bloodlust, an unquenchable thirst for battle. Perhaps the greatest gift and greatest curse Harlecrack had given him. Drums filled his head with noise and blood rushed through his body – an incredibly violent duet.

… and he relished in it, because more than anything else Harry lusted for revenge. How very fortuitous then, that these two things weren't mutual exclusive.

It had been quite a while since Riddle's sheep had last seen him. If memory served right, the last time had been his ill-fated duel against the fake Moody. Ah, yes, the Tri-wizard Tournament. How very childish all of it now seemed. How utterly insignificant.

In the end, he hadn't only survived, but also won. In a most spectacular manner at that. Good memories.

Sadly, as awe-inspiring as he imagined his victory had been, most still considered him a child afterward. How could they not? A child – gifted in magic perhaps – but a child nonetheless. Harry doubted that this particular view had changed at all over the last year. With a few exceptions, he had stayed under the radar and left them simply no other choice but to assume that he was the same fourteen year old wizard he had been back then.

How much could a person truly change in a year anyway?

Harry's grin was feral as he stepped out of the fire and shielded a very surprised Remus and Tim from several curses that flew their way. Both were wounded, and even with his incredible stamina, Remus seemed to be at the edge of total exhaustion.

"Avada Kedavra!"

"Crucio!"

Harry's wand hand twitched and a slab of marble manifested in front of him. The engraved insignia of Harlecrack's Arena – a large, double-bladed axe – shattered under the impact of the two curses which were as illegal as they were deadly.

"Mors Reptilia!"

His eyebrows rose – what a dark and obscure curse... devastating, but slow. Very slow, in fact.

His own harsh voice surprised him as he replied to the challenge. "Scutum Perpetua Virtúte!"

Seams of orange magic exploded outward from the tip of his wand and formed into a vertically spinning disk that hovered in front of him. The purplish-black curse – creeping death in the most literal sense – clashed against his protective disk and Harry's eyes narrowed.

The curse was modified to cover a larger field. Devious. Insanely so, and under different circumstances he might have applauded the ingenuity of his opponent.

"Veca!" He moved his wand clockwise thrice, and the orange shield expanded. Then he reached out with his magic and yanked his wand back.

The middle of his shield followed his movement, while the outer edges still contained the curse. Like oceanic waves, his magic descended upon the curse from all directions until nothing remained. His shield, as well as the enemy's spell collapsed into nothingness.

Taxing. More than he would have thought.

"What the hell are you doing?" The man in black garb and ornate silver mask shouted at his three companions. "Attack them!"

Harry chuckled mirthlessly. These words were a testament to the lack of experience wizards had in open warfare. Both sides had been so enchanted by the short duel of obscure and ancient spells that they completely lost sight of their original goal.

It probably wouldn't happen again.

Swish – debris gathered behind Harry and quickly formed into a protective wall for Remus and Tim.

"Bombarda! Hed!"

His spell was shielded against, but it bought him precious seconds. His faithful familiar landed on his shoulder and an instant later he stood next to the Death Eater who had opened the duel with the Killing Curse.

A fortified Protego snapped up in front of him. Harry grinned. He didn't close the distance just to use magic.

Slash – the Death Eater lost his wand arm. The wand clattered useless to the ground.

"Avada Kedavra!"

Harry summoned the arm into the way of the green curse, simultaneously stabbing his sword through the chest of the man he had previously crippled. He quickly ducked and rolled away as a chain with two weights passed over his head.

Still crouched, three of his Cutting Curses made short work of a few transfigured predators running his way.

There was no time to rest though. Another Killing Curse barely missed him. As did another Crucio. Close calls, but he made progress. Will – Intent – Movement. A shield snapped up in front of him and immediately collapsed under the onslaught of spells. Still, enough time to move a few steps to the side and curse back just as violently, just as viciously.

A cutter clipped the leg of his nearest opponent and the Death Eater stumbled a moment before his inevitable fall began.

"Hastatum." Harry pointed at the ground in front of the man, and as the bulky frame descended onto the destroyed cobblestone road, a sharpened shaft met the body.

The wood ripped through his guts. It was an ugly sound.

Whiz. He dismissed it in favor of another, more dangerous sound.

Apparently, Death Eaters were capable of quick learning – the remaining two enemies definitely hadn't made the same mistake twice. Instead of waiting politely for their comrade to die, several bolts of yellow magic now flew through the air, as did three conjured knives.

Harry's attempt to dodge every spell was met with overwhelming failure; one crashed against his torso and threw him back several feet. Luckily, his armor had weakened the curse's usually quite deadly effect severely.

The knives were still on their way though, and mid-fly, Harry lifted his wand to slow them down. Two sailed by harmlessly as gravity pulled him back to the ground. The third knife was plucked out of the air and flung back at it's original thrower.

It hit – that much he knew at least. Where though, he couldn't see as gravity finally won out and he landed painfully on his back. A Cushioning Charm instead of acrobatic feats might be more appropriate in the future, he decided.

Squelch.

Harry's ears perked up. This sound had been even uglier as the wood ripping through guts one. He shook his head once. This was a battle. There was no time to rest. After applying a crude numbing charm on his back – bless Madam Pomfrey's detention – Harry rose from the ground without further delay.

His eyes widened. Remus – the scholar of the Marauders – hadn't been content with just being a wallflower. Exhaustion was clearly written on his face, but as the werewolf struggled to keep standing above the crumpled form of one Death Eater, he looked rather triumphant. His victim had been the one who had conjured the knives and got hit by one of them in return.

A brick slipped out of Remus' hand and his legs stopped supporting him. He landed face first in the extending puddle of blood of his opponent.

The red curse that streaked toward Remus' unconscious form was intercepted by a small rock which got pulverized in the process.

Harry grinned. He tasted blood on his lips. Curious, when had he received a hit to the face? It didn't matter. Now there was only him and the last Death Eater. Definitely the leader of the group if they were classed according to skill.

His eyes darted around. Where was his damn sword again? The thing always got lost during his fights – perhaps some kind of recall ability would come in handy; a rune project for a less busy moment.

Later though. Definitely, much later. Two green curses exploded against another slab of stone. Harry frowned. One of them hadn't been a Killing Curse. He retaliated with a torrential out-pour of fire and was unsurprised as large quantities of water drenched the flames and him.

Anyhow, the fire was more of a distraction that had been supposed to give him some moments to plan his next course of action. Not possible anymore, unfortunately, as it had been extinguished far earlier than expected. Damn experienced wizards, or was his enemy a witch?

Harry shuddered. If yes, then the bulky robes did a very good job at concealing it. No, it had to be a man. The shoulders were too broad for a gal.

Heat.

Very, very unexpected heat. Harry blanched. His enemy apparently had a similar belief of buying time – but, instead of butchering an Incendio, used controlled Dark Fire. Even if it wasn't Fiendfyre, the flames that now honed in on him were every bit as dangerous.

Normal water wouldn't help him here. At least not the one he could conjure without further preparation and time. Fuck.

"Agumenti Scutum Tholus!" He used the water shield he had learned in the Tri-wizard Tournament. The flames encased him.

It burned. Holy Mother of Merlin, how it burned. The shield had staved off immediate death, but the burns on his face and arms stung murderously and his eyes watered. The drums were nearly overpowering now. Fuck, the bastard would pay. One way, or another.

He lifted his arm, which hurt like hell, and pointed his wand at the black garbed man across the street. Elaborate wand movements weren't possible anymore like this, but with enough power and focus Harry had high hopes that his magic would respond to his wishes.

It did, luckily. Every bit of stone, wood, and rubble behind and around him rose from the ground and shot toward his enemy. Some just in time to intercept another volley of dark spells, while others continued on their way with high speeds.

Merlin, this was tiring.

The Death Eater – still nameless – wasted no time and tried to revert the momentum of the incoming projectiles. It worked for a few, but Harry wasn't done and continued to pump magic through his body in the attempt to make his will reality – squashing the bastard like a bug.

It was a conundrum. He truly enjoyed a good fight – this was one, even if he got hurt – but at the moment he'd like nothing more than for the man in front of him just to fall over, dead preferably. His wish though wasn't granted and the inevitable happened. The man smarted up, finally resorting to cast a shield that stopped physical objects and Harry's reserves ran dry.

The disadvantage of his training with the Goblins. Three months without using the sentient force within his body hadn't exactly made his pool of magicka grow. It showed now. Surrendering though wasn't an option. Not to Riddle himself, nor to any of his followers.

Harry let his wand vanish in its holster and crouched. He reached for the clasp around his calf and pulled out the Dagger of Sku'grad. How often had Sirius' present now saved his life? He hadn't counted, but he wouldn't give the dagger up for anything. Merlin, in the arena alone it had felled its fair share of enemies.

Pain surged through him as he struggled to move forward in unpredictable patterns, hoping to avoid the retaliatory spellfire of his enemy. Damn burns. He swayed to the right, and a red light whizzed past his left ear.

Close. Too close.

A second bolt of magic nearly made it, but it too missed – not that it made the situation any better. Instead of hitting Harry, it exploded next to him and sent him tumbling to the left...

"Avada Kedavra!"

… directly into the path of a Killing Curse. Maybe he would have been strong enough to deal with this particular opponent, if there hadn't been any other Death Eaters to kill beforehand. Alas, the world wasn't fair, never had been, really.

The green light closed in, but Harry kept his eyes open. Not out of pride – who would have any after losing like this? No, there was still one card to be played. He knew it would exhaust her, but Hedwig still had enough juice for one more journey through space and time. It was the one thing that actually made him superior on the field; he could travel quickly. His enemy didn't as long as the wards were up.

A moment before the sickly tendrils of Death's personal curse reached him, he felt the soft touch of his familiar and reappeared instantly next to the Death Eater. His dagger was on its way before he even took a moment to balance himself.

This would be it.

Smash.

The man's fist crashed into Harry's face and sent his unbalanced body flying. Bastard had dodged the dagger by a hair's breadth and slugged him a good one. Shit. The wand – now pointing directly at him – crackled with unreleased magic, and every moment a second beam of green light would burst forth.

Experience. He still hadn't had enough of that...

The Death Eater must be grinning behind his mask. His finishing spell wasn't spoken in hurry like the others during the duel, and the wand movements were smooth and precise. "Avada Ke-"

"Avada Kedavra!"

The smug Death Eater was hit by green light and crumbled to the ground.

Now that was unusual. Either someone from the other team had switched sides, or the Order now authorized the use of Unforgivables in combat. Not that Harry was complaining. What's an Unforgivable when it came to saving his life?

Harry looked to the right. He was still painfully aware that it could be just another Death Eater who had missed, or wanted to climb in rank; Riddle's followers were vicious enough for things like that.

It wasn't an enemy. The sight though, was one Harry wouldn't forget all too soon. His training with Dumbledore had been mostly in isolation, and thus didn't give him the opportunity to gauge the strength of his fellow members. He knew they were competent – for the most part – and he knew that there were some pretty strong witches and wizards who joined the fight against Voldemort.

He knew all that. Yet, seeing and believing were to different things, and his godfather certainly made for an impressive sight. Standing sideways and decked out completely in dragon hide armor, Sirius' wand pointed directly at the fallen Death Eater. Wind whipped through the alley they were in, and Harry who had developed an acute sense under Dumbledore's tutelage felt the currents of magic convalesce around his godfather.

Sirius was angry. If at him, or the situation as a whole would remain a mystery until they were back at Grimmauld Place.

Harry finally had the time to move through the tedious swishing and flicking required for another medical numbing charm that would hold most of the pain at bay until a professional medic could look him over.

"Nice shot." Harry tried his best not to look like a fool, rising from the pile of rubble he had been flung into.

Sirius looked at him with furrowed brows, never lowering his wand an inch. "Stay on your guard, Harry. That the wards are down is the only reason I made it in time. We don't know who won on the other fronts."

"Right." Harry fumbled a bit at the stern tone. He held his wand raised as he trudged sluggishly over the ruins of the alley, gathering his weaponry.

For a few moments, the noise he made while searching for his sword were the only sounds to be heard. Then Sirius talked again, "Did... Did you make it in time? Is Remus alive?"

"Yes. He's lying somewhere over there." Harry gestured into the vague direction. "No worries, he's just unconscious – completely exhausted I guess. Tim should be there too; nice chap that one. I know him from Hogwarts."

"Thank Merlin." It was a but a whisper.

Sirius threw a fleeting glance around the alley and then walked over to the place Harry had pointed at, making sure that Remus and his junior partner were fine. Well, as fine as they could be considering the circumstances.

While he ran the few diagnostic charms he knew over their bodies, he continued to talk, "Tim joined the Order two months ago, after Aberystwyth." Sirius' tone became dark toward the end.

"I've read about it." Harry had, in the meanwhile, found his sword and came to stand next to his godfather. "Don't know how accurate the Goblin News Network is, but it sounded like a lot of people died."

"Oh, many died alright. It- wait, Goblin News Network?" Sirius' head snapped around. "Where the hell have you-"

"Someone's over there!"

They turned around like lightning had struck. Sirius was halfway through an offensive spell, while Harry had raised the Sword of Gryffindor into a defensive position. Their caution – while necessary – wasn't needed though.

Bill, John Abbot and another unknown wizard were walking toward them, supporting each other. They looked ready to keel over, especially the Lord of House Abbot who was missing a large part of his right leg.

"Sirius, Harry? What are you doing here?" Bill asked.

"I would have come sooner, but Moody made it damn hard for me to leave." Sirius pointed nonchalantly at his godson. "Harry went ahead. Just in time to save Remus and Tim."

"They made it?" Bill sighed. "That's good."

"We weren't that lucky..." John grimaced and looked at the ugly, bloody stump that – only a few hours earlier – had been his leg.

Sirius startled, for the first time really noticing the injury. A cruel thought passed through his mind. He blanched. "You're the only ones?"

"Yes," John answered with a grim expression. His blood-soaked hair shadowed his eyes. The clenched fist at his side was just one indicator of the true anger and fury he felt. "We did good at first, better than expected, really. But... they were simply too much."

"So... Elphias... Arthur... the others..."

Bill shut his eyes. "We're the last."


Grimmauld Place – 16. April 1996

After the wards that held them in place fell, it didn't took the remaining survivors of the Portree Battle long to reach Grimmauld Place. One after another they squeezed through space and time until all seven had finally arrived in the entrance chamber of the Order's headquarters. They made for a gruesome sight. The other groups who had just returned from their own battlefields however didn't look much better.

Sirius face was pale as he looked around. He placed his hand on Harry's shoulder. "Go and get your burns healed. We'll talk later."

Harry nodded and stepped out of the room. Whatever had taken place this day... it was a hard blow to the Order. Lord Abbott had told him that the Death Eaters in Portree fled in the end, but it was a Pyrrhic victory at best, bought with blood – too much blood. Harry walked through the hallways, and whenever he saw another person it wasn't a smile that greeted him, but the grim visage of misery.

He sighed. It would be foolish to believe that the infirmary was any better. To even entertain the notion was flawed thinking and – indeed – once he had entered the large room, the smell of blood and waste smashed into him like a Bludger.

The infirmary held over forty beds. All of them were currently in use, occupied by wounded wizards and witches who struggled through their injuries. Harry looked around. There were quite a few healers he didn't recognize, but he also saw familiar faces racing between the beds. Lady Abbott, Andromeda Tonks, Emmeline Vance... they all did their best to make sure as many as possible survived the day.

What in Merlin's name had happened today? Or was this something that had become usual during the time he'd been away?

Emmeline soon noticed him standing in the doorway. With quick strides she marched over to him. "Harry! You're back!"

"I... Yes."

Harry immediately noticed the drawn lines on her face, the bags under her eyes, the incredible tiredness she exuded. What had happened to the beautiful woman who had tutored him in Potions just a few months earlier?

One of the unknown healers called out, "Emmeline, we need you back here!"

"Don't worry." Harry tried to smile encouragingly at her. "I can take care of myself. Just show me where the burn salves are stocked."

She nodded thankfully and pointed at a cabinet on the far side of the room. "They should be in there. Second shelf. Are you sure-"

"Emmeline!"

Harry looked over to the healer. The man wasn't looking at any of them, completely focused on keeping the badly wounded witch in front of him alive.

"Go, they need you more than I do." Harry gave her a gentle shove and watched as she raced over to the bed, weaving her wand in quick and complex motions.

Standing in the corner of the room and applying the salve to his wounds, all Harry saw was despair. Its invisible grasp left no bed untouched, no soul unharmed; and had its hold still been loose in the first weeks of war, so resembled it now a fist ever-clenching. The consequence of one man's mad crusade for domination.

In here, it was just as much a battlefield as the destroyed magical alleys of Portree had been – a room filled with rivers of blood. Harry finished bandaging himself up and left in all haste. Since his return from Olkreg and the subsequent discovery of Riddle's experiments in Newcastle his mood had been bad. This – the aftertaste of battle he now experienced – didn't do much to cheer him up.

It tasted stale. It tasted bitter. It tasted nowhere close as delicious as he had experienced it in the Grand Arena. Harry shook his head. Utter foolishness. How could he have expected the war in Britain to be a glorious one, a good one?

A wailing cry ripped him out of his thoughts. Someone bumped into him and shoved him against the wall of the corridor. Harry didn't resist and remained leaned against it as the person quickly ran past him. Ginger hair – Mrs. Weasley. Molly. He hadn't seen her in months...

Sirius' list of people who had been in Portree and John's damning words shot through his head.

Mr. Weasley was dead, and his wife had just received the news. Harry's fists clenched.

"Harry."

He turned around. His godfather looked even worse than a few minutes ago. "Mr. Weasley..."

"Yes," Sirius said. He closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. "Arthur was a good man. It... will be hard for Molly and her children."

"I saw Bill. What about the twins, Percy, Charlie... Ron?"

"Still alive, if that's what you mean. Come. We'll talk more on the way to Albus' chamber. Moody's there too."

Harry abandoned his position against the wall and stepped up to his godfather. His face was grim. "What happened here? I expected much, but not-"

"This?" Sirius' voice was frigid. "What else did you expect, Pup? Sooner or later the war had to escalate."

"To this degree? Should Riddle ever win, it'll only be after every witch and wizard in Britain is dead."

Harry shuddered as Sirius laughed. It was devoid of any humor; a lifeless husk of what it once had been. "True. It's very different from the first war," he said. "The feeling of helplessness though – you can't imagine it, Pup – it's just as bad as then. Merlin and Morgana... just as bad."

"The Ministry?"

"A bunch of retarded asswipes if there ever was one." Sirius spat on the floor.

Harry sighed. "Of course... and they're not doing anything at all?"

"Them? Psht! The Dark Tosser practically announced his return at Aberystwyth – and all they've done so far is printing useless pamphlets."

"Pamphlets? I heard Fudge was ousted. Isn't that kind of what he'd do?"

Sirius stopped in front of a door and knocked twice. "Fudge's gone, yes. Doesn't mean his replacement is any better though. Never met the man, but he sounds even worse – Albus is up in arms against the guy."

That was definitely the right choice of words as far as Harry could see after Sirius opened the door and both entered the room. Albus always had had a flair for the dramatic and his continuous presence on multiple fronts apparently added another nickname to his already long list of titles. The White Wizard – a bit cliched, but fitting nonetheless considering that he wore snow-white battle robes.

Well, this moment though it'd be more fitting to call him the Red Wizard. That was the problem with white robes – once they got bloody everyone could see it, and on Albus' robes was plenty of blood to be found. The sticky red liquid was even on his face and in his beard, glistening in the dimmed torchlight of the room.

"... Aberdeen?"

Moody grimaced and his leathery face stretched. "Six dead. Chetwin managed the trolls quite easily, but Greyback and his men gave him a lot of trouble."

"Any information on how many of Greyback's pack we killed?"

Harry, who hadn't been noticed by Albus just yet, startled. This wasn't a question Albus would have usually posed. Then again... war could explain even the most stark changes in a person's character.

"Twenty. Perhaps, Thirty. A drop in the bucket, nothing more."

Albus sighed. "So it seems. Do we have confirmation that the Norwegian Wild Packs have joined him?"

"Hálfdan is convinced, at least. According to the Norwegian Ministry, they didn't have to deal with a single werewolf case in several months."

Asmund Hálfdan, now that was a name Harry hadn't heard in over a year. The old-aged Head Auror of Norway – also the Jarl of Østfold – was one of the few politicians he had met during the Tri-wizard Tournament, who had also congratulated him. He had been too busy at that time, but Albus apparently was quite happy to establish some form of mutual beneficial relationship with the man.

"Greyback's pack is numbering well in the hundreds then." Dumbledore's expression was grim.

Albus, looking like this and standing up to his full height made for a rather imposing sight. He towered over a large table with Britain's map and dwarfed the veteran Auror next to him completely.

"Albus." Harry finally made himself known.

The Headmaster's reaction time was impressive. He quickly turned around and his eyes – one still surrounded by dried blood – regained a bit of their usual light. "Harry, my boy! It warms my heart to see you back on British shores."

"Can't say it hasn't been eventful since my return."

"The situation is dire indeed. As hot headed as it was, your timely intervention in Portree saved several lives. It's doubtful whether the other survivors would have remained as such, had you not taken out the last group of Death Eaters and dueled the Raid Leader to a standstill."

"Standstill? I wouldn't call it that exactly..."

"Nonetheless, you gave Sirius the time to kill the man – something that will make our lives a bit easier in the coming weeks."

Moody snorted. "You can stop brown-nosing your apprentice, Albus. We may have killed the bastard, but Portree as a whole was a complete disaster."

"What exactly happened?" Harry asked.

"Ambush. False information... everything at once." Moody spat on the floor.

Albus didn't criticize Moody, but the small swish to get rid of the spit on his carpet was perfectly visible. "You have to know, Harry, that Portree has two magical areas. The one you went to, and another larger one."

"So Remus' group-"

"Went to the smaller district and was overwhelmed by nearly trice the amount of expected Death Eaters." Moody grabbed his flask and took a deep gulp. "Same with Weasley and his men. We sent ten, expecting fifteen to twenty at most, and got far over forty. It's a miracle that Weasley, Abbott, and Stenway even managed to kill enough for them to retreat in the end."

"Normally we'd have send reinforcements – even if per broom, but Tom hit several locations at once. Portree was just one of many battlefields," Albus cut in.

"I heard you were at Diagon Alley with Riddle?"

"Indeed. It was Tom's first attack on Britain's magical main area and he brought quite a lot of servants with him."

That certainly explained the blood soaked robes. "Is the Alley still standing?"

"Quite so. A lot of buildings have been damaged though." Albus furrowed his brows. "I'm glad that at least for this battle we had the support of the Ministry. The Aurors showed up half-way into the battle and bolstered our ranks considerably. Without them, I fear we would have lost the Alley."

"Riddle brought that many with him?"

"He's been heavily recruiting from nearly everywhere. Apart from the large amount of Dementors, I'd wager there were more than a hundred Death Eaters as well."

"... how in Merlin's name..."

"In the same way we have bolstered our ranks. Though, as you've seen, our zealous recruiting also led to leaks and misinformation."

"What about the IWC and the Battle Mages? They should have taken notice if so many of their criminals and dark wizards simply vanished and reappeared in Britain."

"That's exactly the point which makes inaction seem so appealing to them. As long as their dark wizards are in Britain, they're not in their own countries..."

"... you make a disturbing amount of sense, Albus. As always."

"One of my lesser appreciated virtues, I assure you." Dumbledore looked around the room, and Harry – following the headmaster's gaze – noticed that Moody was already involved in another heated discussion with Sirius. "Why don't we leave these two to their discussion and travel to my office in Hogwarts. There's a lot we have to talk about."

Harry let himself be steered out of the room, but furrowed his brow. "Not Dolores Umbridge's office anymore?"

"An enjoyable coincide, wouldn't you say? In any case, I believe the bloodshed to be over for today. Even if their numbers are vast, the Death Eater's death toll is rising proportional to it. It'll be another week or two, before we can expect the next wave of hostility."

"Hogwarts it is, then. I'll have to hitch a ride though – Hedwig's tired from the battle and needs some time to recuperate."

"That shan't be problem. Let her rest. Fawkes!"

Harry caught the vision of red feathers from the corners of his eyes. A moment later, Albus and himself vanished from Grimmauld Place.


Hogwarts – 16. April 1996

When his feet came into contact with the lithic floor and he managed to keep his balance even as Fawkes claw left his shoulder, Harry was unprepared for the sudden rush of nostalgia that swept through him. He let his gaze wander over the assorted trinkets in the office – the World Tapestry, the Flame of Ankou, Godsögnsvanir. Artifacts he now knew the names of, but as had always been the case, just one further look revealed so many more items in the headmaster's collection that inquiring about them all would take days, nay weeks.

And had he still been a student, albeit one whose academic interest in such things had come rather late, he'd love nothing more than to ask the man for details on them all, pestering him even until every bit of ancient and arcane knowledge had been squeezed out of the venerable Albus Dumbledore.

Harry turned to Albus and pointed at the World Tapestry. "I see that Britain is orange this time around. Still not red, but vastly better than the misleading green."

"As long as the battle remains on British soil, it won't change to red no matter how tragic the war may be. For the tapestry, as I've told you before, Tom Riddle's bout for dominance is nothing more than a revolution."

Harry let his fingers glide over the delicate looking tapestry, absentmindedly noticing Dumbledore cleaning himself with a few refreshing charms. The white robes were now as pristine as they had probably been before he lead the Order and the Ministry against Riddle's hordes in Diagon Alley.

"What of Umbridge?" Harry asked.

He had heard nothing good about the woman from his comrades in the Order, and even before his journey to Olkreg, Bill had frequently ranted about her. A bigoted woman who – if not directly supporting Riddle – at least supported his ideals. That alone gave him reason enough to feel lucky not to have met her just yet.

Albus chuckled mirthfully. "She is gone, I fear. A fact many students cheered for, as far as I've heard it from Minerva. Apparently, after my motion to oust Fudge as the acting minister succeeded, her whole basis of support broke down."

"Adrian Atkins – the new minister – wasn't a big fan of her either and quickly reinstated me as Hogwarts' Headmaster," Albus said. His tone darkened as he mentioned the name of the new minister.

"Atkins... Sirius told me he's trouble."

"That he is, or at least his inaction. Hopefully that will change now that Tom has made his personal appearance in Diagon Alley. Atkins can't ignore such an obvious sign, not even Fudge could have."

Harry pointed at the small dot labeled 'Aberystwyth' on the tapestry and circled it several times. "From what I heard in Olkreg, the Battle of Aberystwyth should have been sign enough for actions to be taken."

"It should have, but it didn't. Most saw it for what it was, of course, but until Tom's return was completely supported by the evidence of showing himself, Atkins remained passive and simply regarded it as a rise of dark activities."

"Is he one of Riddle's sympathizers then?"

Albus shook his head. "A sympathizer? I doubt it. His sudden appearance in Diagon Alley was as much a surprise to me, as to everyone else there."

"The Minister was at the battle?"

"For a short time, yes. He portkeyed in with several groups of Aurors."

"But he didn't fight?"

Albus stroked his beard. "No, he didn't. But that was not his duty anyway. Rather, he took one look at Tom and assigned the command over the Aurors to Madam Bones and Lord Scrimgour. It will be interesting to see what he is going to do... especially now that he finally got the evidence he so desperately wanted."

During Albus' short explanation, both had taken their seats at the table and were now resting their tired bones in the comfortable armchairs the office provided. A small almost pitiful burst of fire announced Hedwig's arrival, who immediately struggled to land next to Fawkes and was quickly steadied by one of his large, red wings. The older Phoenix watched his younger friend with something akin to protectiveness.

"On to other matters, Harry. I confess that – when I told you to take your time if necessary – I never expected you to take me so literally. Four months is quite a while, and I am quite curious to learn what you have been up to."

Harry might have taken this wording as a rebuke a year earlier, but he had a vastly different understanding of the man sitting across him now. A smile played on his lips. "I already gave you the first hint, Albus."

"That you have, my boy. Olkreg... but what could have possibly driven you into the capital of the Goblin Nation? A place not many humans have seen at all. At least, seen and returned to tell the tale."

Harry laughed. "Can you think of nothing? You yourself told me about it in China."

"A Tournament? Surely you can't mean the... you-"

"I did it. Won a few fights, entered the Tournament and received my boon from the King – the ward schemes of Riddle's facility in Newcastle."

"There was no other way?"

"It would have taken even longer to observe and unravel the wards without instructions. Perhaps there's been another way, but I didn't find it."

"So you survived the Tournament. Once more you surprise me, Harry. I actually can't remember another instance like this... do you believe this could help us with our relations with the Goblins of Gringotts here in Britain?"

"Doubtful. I didn't exactly make friends with my opponents."

"Ah, to be expected, I suppose. Tell me then, what about Newcastle? Did what you find merit your eventful journey?"


More than an hour passed as Harry told his mentor of the gruesome sights he saw, the inequities of Voldemort's followers – the twisted goal of the beast himself. The tale of Harry's four months wasn't just one of sadness and disgust though. Steeped in bloodshed it may have been, he nevertheless counted his participation in the Grand Tournament of Irgath Ul Th'raz as an achievement of note.

How many wizards could actually say that they had fought and won against a fierce enemy like a Goblin in close quarters? None. It was another something he had managed to do without a precedence. But this time – and it was this that made his victory over Marduk Babylos so important to him – he won through his own strength.

There had been no phoenix to blind his opponent, nor had there been the ancient magic his mother once invoked to protect him. Harlecrack had trained him, certainly helping him along the way, but in the end it was his own ability that enabled him to survive.

If anything, it certainly was a novel feeling. Independence in the truest sense of the word. Something he swore to cherish the moment he first experienced it.

What a curious luxury the mere idea represented.

With Riddle abound, lounging on the cozy satin sheets of Independence would be rather difficult though, chained together as they were through a prophecy made by entities greater than life – another point on the long list of reasons why death could be the only answer to one Tom Marvolo Riddle.

Then again, didn't the mere presence of such an entity – something so immensely powerful that it had the ability to connect people at will, at a whim even – make it impossible to achieve true independence? Weren't Fate's shackles proof enough that even the short moment of being in control during his fight with Babylos was nothing more than an illusion?

Delicate, fragile, utterly self-serving; and so very, very misleading.

Harry stopped in front of a bookshelf, didn't pay the old tomes any attention though. His eyes were focused on something else. They followed Albus' hand as the wizened man wrote a letter to some politician in order to solidify their alliances in the Wizengamot.

"Albus?"

Dumbledore continued to write with precise strokes of his feather quill, not once looking up from the document. "Mhh?"

"Do you still believe that everyone deserves a second chance?"

It was a loaded question. Certainly one that had been the topic of many heated discussions between the two of them during Harry's apprenticeship. Albus' hand stilled, and his blue eyes snapped up to the young man that was leaning against his bookshelf.

"Are you talking about someone specific?"

Harry didn't turn away from the man's gaze, answering the searching look with an expression of grim determination. "In fact, I do."

Dumbledore slowly put away the quill and folded his partly covered hands in the large plaits of his robes. He leaned back a bit, now completely focused on his young apprentice. "You are not talking about Severus... who is it then that you want to see irrevocably dead?"

"Can't you imagine?"

"You mean Tom?" Albus asked, rising one of his eyebrows. "I believed this to be a given."

Harry snorted. "Is it truly? Prophecy or not, I wouldn't put it past you to try and reform him. To be honest, that's exactly what I feared for quite a while now..."

The headmaster remained silent as Harry pushed himself away from the bookshelf and started to pace through the office. "I want there to be no misunderstanding, Albus. Riddle, Voldemort, or whatever he fancies to call himself next is going to die – at my hand and, preferably, in a most gruesome manner."

Dumbledore didn't answer immediately. For minutes, his eyes remained on Harry who looked at him expectantly, and silence rang hollow through his office. Then, Fawkes chirped once and the headmaster seemingly regained his wits.

A small, self-deprecating smile stretched his lips. "Odd. How truly odd that someone who – in comparison – lacks well over a century of experience knows me so well; perhaps, even better than I do myself. Truthfully, for the longest time I did indeed have high hopes for Tom to repent –however possible."

"You still want to reform him then?"

"Magical talent should never be squandered. Imagine, Tom's powers used for good, for the betterment of our kind..." Albus paused momentarily, but continued before Harry could interrupt him. "At least, that's what I thought for most of the last few decades anyway."

The headmaster shook his head. "But then the boy turned into a monstrosity, used his great potential for magicks so evil, I dare say even previous Dark Lords would retch in disgust..."

Harry sighed. "You truly are an idealist, Albus. Remember, I've seen the memories in your Pensieve. Tom Riddle's potential shouldn't have blinded you to his danger, at least not like this."

"How very astute of you, my boy." Dumbledore rose from his chair and strolled over to Harry. He laughed, though it sounded neither merry, nor self-deprecating. "Aye, I admit to my blindness. Hubris had me firmly in its treacherous claws for I could not even conceive the mere notion that I would fail in showing Tom the right path."

Albus stroked his beard.

Harry shifted backward half a step, once again leaning against the bookshelf – instantly though, Albus' glowing wand was pointed at his forehead. Harry's eyes widened and his heart hammered furiously in his chest. A droplet of sweat ran down his temple. Their noses nearly touched.

"I ask then, shall hubris take me captive once more? Is your potential not equal to his – do you not represent just as much danger as he does, if not more?"

Jade eyes blazed up. "Don't dare compare me to him! Not when it was your fault, your inaction that made him my equal!"

"And if I lead you astray too? If the savior is lost, what will there be but ash and dust?"

"Then stop leading altogether. Guide, show, prepare... but do not presume to lead me – not after I learned what freedom tastes like. I will kill Riddle. What happens afterward... you will have neither say in that, nor bear the consequences of my actions."

Albus' expression was unidentifiable as the stand-off continued. The Elder Wand still crackled with power in front of Harry's eyes, just as the Dagger of Sku'grad was still poking slightly into the headmaster's side.

"You matured once more, it seems. Found your resolve too, apparently."

Harry sighed as Dumbledore stepped back and let his wand vanish. "You've shouldered this country's burdens for over a century... aren't you tired, Albus? I'm doing it for merely a year now and I'm definitely sick of it already. Prepare me for Riddle, Old Man. Make this your truly last mission."

"My last mission?" Albus asked amused.

"You've certainly earned your retirement." Harry laughed. "Let others worry over what comes after Riddle. Find peace."

"You make it sound so easy..."

"Because it is."


AN: Also, a shameless self-plug: I made a Jiraiya Tribute AMV. You can find the link on my profile if you want to take a look at it.