AUTHOR'S NOTES: Hello, there!

Enjoy!

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Harry Potter, and I do not intend to make any money off of this. Harry Potter is the intellectual property of J. K. Rowling , and I take no credit of it whatsoever.

I was also inspired by Demon Eyes Laharl's: THE RED KNIGHT! and also from Random-Fruitcake04's: CHOICES! I hope you check them out as well because they are genuinely very good stories.

There's also a couple more Ron fics out that are on point! They're called 'There and Back Again' by Chuchi Otaku, and 'Cooking Like a Bachelor' by Avatar Vader. Please, go check 'em out! You won't regret it, spread the Ron love, people!

P.S: Starway Man is a chad!


Fate

Chapter 143 – The Red Thief

The Champion's POV

Wednesday 24th March, 1994 (Ilvermorny Castle – Morning)

The Champion followed after William at a much slower pace than he was comfortable with, however, given that the old Pukwudgie's knees shook with every step, the Champion decided to exercise his limited patience instead of finding his own way to the pitch. Still… Why is he working at such an old age? Shouldn't he be in some comfortable bed? Enjoying his twilight years in relative comfort? Whatever, it's not my problem.

"We should get off the main path," the Champion advised, looking back and forth. "I don't think your fellow Pukwudgies plan to be as accommodating to me as you've been."

"You think I care?" William grumbled, shooting a frown back. "If you want to muddy your fine shoes, then you are more than welcome to it, but I'm too old to be sneaking around like some thief in the night." That's fair, I suppose.

The Champion looked left and right, studying the tall trees which lined the grey, cobblestone path leading directly towards the Quidditch Pitch. These trees don't seem… natural. Their size is very similar to the trees from the forest behind the castle. The Magic within this mountain must've enhanced them all.

"Well, since we don't care if we get spotted, how about you answer some of my questions?" the Champion asked, and William merely growled in response. "Who are the Sages?"

"I cannot tell you that." Right… It was worth a shot.

"Is the Sacred Tree truly dying?" the Champion continued.

"…Yes…"

"And no one's been able to find a cure?"

"No."

"How many people have tried?" the Champion pulled out the apple he had pocketed earlier. "Give me a guess, if you aren't sure."

"Not many," the Pukwudgie sounded particularly bitter this time around. "Harkin listened to the Sages and hid the truth from the world, and now, here we are." Harkin? Not Headmaster? Is this the real reason behind his help? To rebel against the man? "No more questions… You are risking my life, boy." Boy? And what life? You can barely even walk anymore.

"It sounds as though you're not exactly fond of these Sages," the Champion observed, still gathering information. "And you're most definitely not fond of Harkin. So… Why do you work for him?"

"I don't work for him! I don't work forany witch or wizard!" William stopped and turned around, looking furious. "We were always here, right from the start! Just because you wizards decided to plant a castle atop this mountain doesn't make it yours! This is Pukwudgie land, and it always has been and always will be! Got it?" Okay… Where'd that come from? "No more questions. Your accent is annoying me. Be quiet." My accent? You rude little-… You're the one with the accent, you prat!

"Are you done?" the Champion asked calmly, utterly unfazed by the old midget's rant. "Oh, and this isn't Pukwudgie land, it's mine." Let Us make this clear from the start.

"…What?"

"You heard me," the Champion leaned down, something cold shifting behind his pale eyes. "The moment I stepped onto this mountain; it became mine. This whole planet is mine. From the smallest blade of grass to the tallest mountain, all of it belongs to me. Got it?" And I will protect what's mine at any cost. "If you don't believe me, you can ask your Lady when we find her." She'll probably bow and kiss my feet as soon as she sees me. That's going to be… awkward.

William stared long and hard into the Champion eyes, until eventually, he averted his gaze and turned back around. Yeah, that's what I fucking thought. "Why have you truly come here, wizard? Who are you?"

"I've come to help," the Champion straightened up, taking a bite out of his apple with a satisfied smile. "And I'm someone you shouldn't raise your voice near. I don't care about whatever ill feelings you have towards Wizarding-Kind; I've done you no wrongs. Now, please, be a helpful guide and answer my questions. I'm on your side here. Is there a way into the mountain itself?"

"…There is…" William was barely audible, limping on ahead. "But only Harkin has access." Ah, so Abadie's theory was correct, after all. Now, I just have to find a way in.

"Where can I find it?" the Champion asked.

"I cannot tell you that," William answered. Of course…

"Is there anyone who can?" the Champion tried.

"No… Not without turning to ash." Merlin… Is that what happens if you break the Unbreakable Vow? Fucking Fred and George… No wonder dad beat them.

"Bloody hell…" the Champion sighed out. "Why would you make an Unbreakable Vow with these Sages if you don't even like them?"

"What makes you think that-?"

"Oh, please… You nearly choked on resentment when you mentioned them," the Champion pointed out. "Am I wrong?"

"…No…" William eventually growled under his breath. "And as for why I did it… That is not your concern. You said you can help heal this mountain, and I'm sure that doesn't involve you knowing my affairs."

"I want to know if they forced you into becoming their puppet," the Champion explained, feeling a familiar cold chill run up his spine. "And more importantly, I want to know if they've forced the same onto Octavia."

"And if they have?" William stopped again, turning around to study the Champion's face.

"Then, once I've saved the mountain and found the answers I seek, I'll kill them all," the Champion made no effort to hide his intentions. "Every single one."

William was visibly taken aback by this, blinking repeatedly. "…Why…? You… You said they invited you here…" And? What difference does that make?

"I don't like those who force others into servitude against their will," the Champion said, his free hand clenching into a fist without him even realizing. "If that's what's going on here, then I promise you, I will put an end to it. By any means necessary, should the need arise."

William gave a slow nod, his sunken eyes narrowing in both confusion and intrigue. "You are a strange wizard, Champion… Even stranger than your unusual name…"

"Cheers."

"And the answer is no," William went on. "They did not force me, nor the Lady, into making the Vow. We chose our own fates, and we chose poorly… The sages are… They were guardians… Guardians who failed in their duty… Just like the rest of us." William turned back around at that. "That is all I can tell you about them. Do not underestimate their power, Champion, and do not trust a single word they hiss. They lie just as easily as they breathe." Hiss? Did he just say hiss? Curious, but I won't press him further, just to be on the safe side. "Come, we've wasted enough time."

The Champion followed after William silently, pondering his words and deciding to relay them to Dumbledore as soon as possible. Hiss… Why that specific word? This school actually might have more secrets than even Hogwarts-…

"HALT! INTRUDER!" a girl shouted from behind them, and when the Champion turned around, he saw a group of Pukwudgies charging at him from the castle, their bows nocked and their daggers sharpened. Oh, shit! Fuck, I was too busy paying attention ahead of us! Artyom would be so pissed right now if he were here… What the fuck is the matter with me?! Always be alert, you damn fool! Always!

The Champion and William exchanged looks, and then, the old Pukwudgie moved himself in front of the Champion. "Stay quiet. Let me talk."

"Alert the Headmaster!" the short, female Pukwudgie at the front ordered, brandishing her daggers with the intent to fight. "Tell him the thief has returned!" Thief? The leaf was a gift, you dumb twat. I didn't steal anything.

"Lower your blades, Bethzy," William frowned deeply. "Now!"

"Great-Grandfather, this wizard attacked Brightbeak and stole from the Sacred Tree," Bethzy growled bestially, her grip tightening on her blades. Great-Grandfather? "He even broke our Sacred Statues!" Oh, double fuck… I guess Ava must've gone running to them.

"Sacrilege!" one of the Pukwudgies hissed, his eyes full of angry tears. Oh… I had no idea they believed them to be sacred… Whoops.

"He fixed them, didn't he?" William countered, his face twisting from anger for some unknown reason. "His will triumphed over Brightbeak's and those damned statues you all now worship as 'Sacred', and that gives him every right to stand here. Such is our way, or, have you all forgotten your roots for the sake of serving Wizards and Witches? The strong eat, while the weak starve. That is our way!" What? That doesn't sound right to me… "Put away your weapons, you foolish children. This beast is too powerful for the likes of you." Exactly! Couldn't have put it better myself! Wait… Beast? Oi!

"Great-Grandfather-" Bethzy started, her voice was incredibly high-pitched.

"Enough!" William barked harshly, making his great-granddaughter shrink. "Do not question your elders, girl! Begone, all of you!"

"No," one of the larger Pukwudgies stepped forward, aiming an arrow straight at William, much to the shock of Bethzy and the others. All right, that's enough. Threaten me all you like, but he's a frail old man. What the fuck?

"Benjamin…" Bethzy muttered in disbelief, while the rest stepped back. Benjamin? "Do you have any idea who you're threatening?! Put that down, now!"

"He's a delusional old man, and I'm sick of listening to his lectures about 'our ways'!" Benjamin snapped back; his arrow ready to fly any second now. "Move aside, you bitter raisin. Your ways and time are done! We've all moved on! This is our home, and we will protect it from the likes of him, even if we have to put you out of your misery first!" He's really going to do it, isn't he? All right, it's time to intervene, before this gets any uglier.

"William, it's fine," the Champion said gently, placing his gloved hand on the old Pukwudgie's shoulder and moving him aside in order to face Benjamin himself. "You want to kill someone, Pukwudgie, kill me."

"Don't think I won't, wizard," Benjamin smiled darkly. I want you to. Go on. Put me out of my misery, please.

"Then, do it," the Champion smiled back, tapping his forehead hard enough to leave a mark behind. "Shoot me right here, all right? This suit is sturdier than it looks, so you'll have to shoot me in the face. Otherwise, I'll just walk it off." There, I just gave you the chink in my armour. Do it.

The Pukwudgies exchanged disturbed looks, while Benjamin lost his smile and began to sneer hatefully. "Don't think I won't! I'll do it! I don't care that you're still young!" Maybe you need some encouragement, then?

"DO IT!" the Champion suddenly screamed, and Benjamin's fingers slipped as he jumped from fright.

The whistling arrow blew past the Champion's head, causing his heart to jump into his throat, but soon enough, the only feeling left within him was utter disappointment. So close… What a waste.

The Champion let out a long sigh, his eyes losing all hope and becoming distant once again at the prospect of going on. "You missed… I can't believe you bloody missed from that close… Well, go on, nock another one, mate. I'll wait."

The Pukwudgies all stepped back at that, some of them even looked close to running back to their grey castle all of a sudden. Pathetic, the lot of you. Can't even shoot a standing target. I'm done here.

"Not going to kill me?" the Champion asked, and Benjamin just stood rooted to his spot. "Then, get out of my face, yeah? Before I lose my patience and teach you how it's done."

"Stupid boy," William frowned at Benjamin, who lowered his head and clenched his bow so tightly that it creaked. "Go back to cooking and cleaning for your masters. That's all you're good for. Come, Champion." That reminds me.

"Here," the Champion took one final bite of his apple, before throwing it in front of the Pukwudgies. "Clean it up."

With that, both the Champion and William resumed their journey towards the Quidditch Pitch, neither of them saying a word until they were finally out of earshot.

"Are you crazy?" William suddenly hissed. "Tempting fate in such a way?"

"Oh, Fate and I go way back," the Champion simply smiled, making the Pukwudgie blink. "She can't hurt me anymore than she already has, is what I'm saying."

"You… are a truly strange wizard…" William shook his head in disbelief, before giving the Champion the faintest of smiles. "If only we had met in my youth…" he trailed off.

"We'd be friends?" the Champion finished for him.

"No," William's wrinkled lips twitched upwards into a twisted smile. "I'd have hunted you to the ends of the Earth, and put your head on my wall." Oh… Okay, then. Thank you?

"You're a real charmer, old man," the Champion sniggered, both bemused and amused. "Do Pukwudgie's enjoy being hunters? I'm sorry, but I'm quite ignorant about your kind and your history. Do you mind sharing some stories along the way?"

"You… want to learn about us?" William asked, looking slightly taken aback. "What of your questions?"

"I don't think I can learn more from you without risking your life," the Champion said, remembering how William had put himself in front of danger without a second thought. That was brave. To shield a stranger like that.

"The risk didn't stop you before."

"I'm stopping now," the Champion simply shrugged. "So? Tell me of your people, William."

William looked ahead, remaining silent for a few moments while the Champion drank his Nutrition Potion for the day. Fuck, that's bad! Ugh, do Fred and George shit in these?! Still, I owe them, and I'll be sure to pay them back. They didn't have to do this for me… but they still did.

"My people are long gone, Champion…" William suddenly whispered, shooting a dark, but mournful, look back at the castle. "That stupid boy was right… My time here is finished, and yet, I just linger on… Like some damn ghost…"

"Why? What's keeping you here?"

"Habit…" William replied, lowering his gaze out of shame. I get that.

"Me too," the Champion smiled a sorry smile.

"You wanted him to kill you…" William said, looking up towards the Champion for a moment. "I saw it in your eyes…"

"Sometimes, death is a mercy," the Champion whispered in response.

"Indeed, it is," William agreed, giving the Champion a short nod of approval. "My people… We were hunters, once upon a time. The greatest hunters this world had ever known. We roamed this beautiful, bountiful land side-by-side with all of the Great Mother's children. In perfect harmony. The strong lived, and the weak didn't. We let nature run its course. We respected its infinite power, and we did not attempt to subdue it. It was a simpler time… A better time. But now? Now, we serve… We worship carvings of wood made by humans… We tell ourselves that we're nothing like the Elves, or, the Goblins, or, the Veela, or, even Wizarding Kind itself… But it's a lie. The Great Mother has turned from us because we've turned from our natures. Every year, the Pukwudgies grow weaker and weaker, and the young pass it off as 'evolution'…" William then looked to the Champion, his eyes wet with unshed tears. "We were great once, Champion. We were worthy of respect, even from those like you."

"I believe you," the Champion said, he could feel the pain of loss emanating from the old Pukwudgie. "And I understand why you yelled at me before, now. When I implied that you worked for Harkin… I'm sorry, I shouldn't have assumed."

"No… You had every right to," William said bitterly, looking back ahead. "We're just servants, now… We gave up all our lands, our very future… Either through trickery, or, through desperation to survive the 'Wizarding World'… This is now the last bastion of the Pukwudgies. This Cursed mountain…" Damn, that's a rough hand.

"I'm sorry for what my people did to yours," the Champion apologized, despite knowing it would change nothing. "I don't need to know your history to know our natures, you see. We destroy everything we touch." We're just too fucking greedy… We want it all, even if the cost is too high.

"Are you sure that you're a wizard?" William asked, and the Champion let out a tired laugh. Am I wizard? Or, something else entirely? I don't even know anymore.

"I call it like I see it," the Champion answered instead. "If someone doesn't like that, they can go fuck themselves bloody for all I care."

"Ha! Well said, Champion!" William let out a cackle as they reached a fork in the road. "We go right here. Not far now."

"Where does the left lead?" the Champion asked out of curiosity.

"Further towards the edge, to the front gates," William replied, gesturing the Champion to follow him. "We must hurry. Before Harkin knows what we're about."

"You reckon we'll run into more guards up ahead?" the Champion asked, relaxing his mind via Occlumency. "Hold on a moment, please."

"What is it?" William grumbled.

"I'm going to try and sense Magical Signatures around us," the Champion replied, closing his eyes and drawing in a deep breath. Remember what Artyom and the Headmaster taught you, old boy. Open yourself up to the Magic around you, and then focus on how far you want to reach.

The Champion suddenly felt a withering presence right next to him, no doubt it was William. His Magic felt fleeting, as if it were being washed away from the world's canvas by time, and yet, much like a proper stain, it was still faintly visible. He's old… Much older than I first thought. The Champion smiled a little to himself, impressed that William had survived such an unforgiving Universe for so long. Go further, now. Don't get distracted.

As the Champion expanded his range, he quickly found himself feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of Magic all around him. All of it hit him like an incomprehensible torrent of emotions and sensations, and the Champion's mind reeled back in response. Fuck! Pull back! Pull back right now!

The Champion's eyes snapped open; his breathing heavy as he looked all around himself. "…What the fuck was that…?"

"Champion?"

"I… There's so much errant Magic here…" the Champion muttered, staring at the tall trees in disbelief. "Something is very wrong here. There shouldn't be so much Magic in the air. It's like every single blade of grass is infused with it. Every single leaf… Even the wind is choking on it…" This is remarkable, and a little scary. The Headmaster and Professor Snape also need to know about this.

"It is getting worse on this end, then…" William all but whispered, looking down at his feet. "The mountain bleeds, and all we can do is watch… We are completely powerless…"

"Are you telling me that the Site of Power within this mountain is leaking?" the Champion was horrified, even he knew that this would eventually lead to catastrophe.

"Site of Power?" William asked, unsure of the term. Oh, right! They probably have another name for such places.

"Um… There are certain places in the world where Magic converges, and these places are always bountiful and filled with Magical Creatures," the Champion recalled Professor Binns' lectures. "Even us wizards are attracted to them, as if these places call out to us all. Hogwarts is a Site of Power, as is Ilvermorny. I think we wizards have placed schools and Ministries on almost all recorded Sites of Power, essentially claiming them for ourselves."

William frowned deeply at that, but said nothing. Sorry…

"Can you heal this, Champion?" William eventually asked, though there was no hope behind those sunken eyes of his. "Is it even possible?"

"I will, even if it's the last thing I do," the Champion promised, more concerned than ever now. "From what I've gathered… This entire country is danger. This mountain will be the death of us all."

"Us?" William blinked.

"Yes, us," the Champion gave him a pat on the back. "I'm not going anywhere, mate. I'm here until I see this through. You have my word."

"But you are not of this land…" William looked somewhat troubled, now. "Why do you even care? Why would you risk your life for ours?" That's simple, old man. "Wizards… I cannot understand any of you-"

"I'm here because I know what it's like to be afraid… To be powerless," the Champion replied from the heart, stopping William short. "And I swore to myself a long time ago that I'd never be powerless again, and that with my newfound power, I'd make sure to protect good folk such as yourself from the horrors in the dark. We have to be the change we want to see in the world, I truly believe that. We have to be better than we were yesterday. And I'm not just talking about wizards, but all of us. There is no point in being strong if you don't use that strength to help raise those who have tripped, those who could one day be strong if only given the chance. I know you don't agree with my ideals, but they're the reason why I'll not leave until this is sorted."

William nodded weakly, studying the Champion's fine clothes and shoes once again. "I… have misjudged you, wizard. Forgive me. It is rare to meet a wizard who places more value in others than himself. You even remind me of a witch I befriended a long time ago… She too had a strong and honourable heart." Ah, so you don't hate us all, it seems. "You have my bow, Champion, until we see this through. I swear it upon my trophies." Good man, because I'll need all the help I can get.

"Lead the way, then," the Champion said with a half-smile, and they both resumed their journey in silence.

It wasn't long before they could see the gates of the Quidditch Pitch, and much to the Champion's delight, he immediately spotted a handful of reporters lounging about, all of them looking bored to tears. Unfortunately, however, there were also Pukwudgies standing guard at the gates, and the Champion knew that Harkin would be immediately alerted this time around. Time to put on a show!

"This is where I leave you, Champion," William suddenly stopped, frowning deeply at the reporters. "For now, at least. The Lady will be with Harkin, overseeing the games. May the Great Mother bless your hunt."

"I'll see you soon, mate," the Champion gave a grateful nod. "Thank you for showing me the way."

The Pukwudgie gave a respectful nod in response, before vanishing from sight. Woah… He just… disappeared… That wasn't Apparition. Oh, it must be Pukwudgie Magic, then. Very nice! Fixing his tie into place, the Champion began making his way over to the reporters, a few of whom spotted him quickly and rushed over with flashing cameras and incessant yelling.

"Mr. Weasley! Are you attending the games?!"

"How do you feel about being disqualified by the International League of Wizard's Chess Club? Taking away your chance at a third victory in a row?" Did you really have to rub that in?

"Do you have any comments on who'll win the Junior League Tournament? In your opinion, of course."

The Champion raised his hands in order to stop them from clamouring on, a pleasant smile already in place. "I will be attending the games, but not as a competitor-"

"Do you have any personal comments for the International League of Wizard's Chess Club itself?" a very familiar voice cut him off, making his skin crawl. Fucking Skeeter… "It is appalling that they'd punish you for being sick, isn't it?"

The Champion saw her push her way to the front at that, wearing an ugly, green dress topped off with bright-red lipstick. Just one look at her made the Champion want to disregard his own code and simply commit cold-blooded murder, however, he quickly used his Occlumency to maintain his charming façade. Before my work is done, I'll be sure to pay her a visit in the darkness of night. I'll pluck out her eyes and her tongue, and then I'll leave her crucified in front of the Daily Prophet's Headquarters. Her 'sensational' reporting has destroyed hundreds of lives, and she did it all for gold and fame. Yes, she must die also! There is no discussion to be had on the matter!

"Well?" Skeeter asked, fixing her jewelled spectacles into place before smirking at him. I know exactly how to deal with a bottom-feeder like you, Skeeter.

"The rules are the rules, and I am not above them," the Champion lied, enjoying the fact that her smirk died on her face. "I missed the first five games, and although it was due to my poor health, I will not ask for special treatment. I just want to watch some chess, and support my friend, Amanda DuPont, who is making her debut in the Apprentice League this year." Twist that into sensational news, you cunt.

"…I see…" Skeeter smiled a false smile, her Enchanted quill writing down every word. "Still, a shame that you meddled with the Dark Arts… No one has ever won the Junior League Tournament three years in a row. It would've been historic." …I know…

The other reporters didn't exactly look pleased with Skeeter's comment, but she didn't seem to care, as she was intently watching the Champion, waiting for him to slip up and say anything she could twist into a profit. How about I turn these fine reporters on you, eh? Actually, yes. Let's do that.

"I pay for my foolishness every day…" the Champion adorned a forlorn expression, 'averting' his gaze as a cherry on top. "But actions have consequences, and I won't shirk away from the ones I now have to face." The Champion then cleared his throat, pretending to be choked up. "…Sorry… I um… I'll answer your questions at the end of the day, I promise. I have to go."

With that, he began making his way through the reporters, pleased to see them move out of his way whilst shooting Skeeter murderous looks for ruining their chances of getting an interview for their respective outlets. They still tried to ask him questions, of course, but he kept his gaze low and ignored the flashing cameras, until finally, he was through the mob and facing the gate guarded by five Pukwudgies, none of whom looked pleased to see him. This could be troublesome. I need to be very careful here-…

He suddenly stopped moving, as if an invisible force had grabbed onto him, feeling his stomach turn and his head spin. What… the…? I feel sick all of a sudden. Did someone just Curse me? His vision began to blur as his forehead threatened to explode, it felt as though a thousand hot needles had suddenly punctured his brain. FUCK! What is happening to me?!

The Champion fell forward onto his hands and knees, unable to carry himself due to the overwhelming pain which was now running rampant throughout his body. Blood trickled down his nose as the shouting of the panicked reporters became distorted beyond recognition, and then, very suddenly, the pain vanished entirely, leaving the Champion terrified and gasping for air. What…? What was that…?

"…I fucked up…" came a wheeze from his left, and the Champion turned his head to see a fading Ravenclaw Ron lying beside him. "I went too far… Pushed too hard… I'm sorry…"

"Did you find anything?" the Champion muttered under his breath, and Ravenclaw Ron grinned with droopy eyes.

"Oh, yes… I'll tell you all… about it… But for now, I need rest…" Ravenclaw Ron managed, before vanishing from sight entirely. Fuck me… We both have to be more careful… That was unbearable-…

"Mr. Weasley?" an American reporter approached him, while the rest continued taking photos and calling the unmoving Pukwudgies for help. "Are you good? Oh, Gods… You're bleeding…"

The Champion clenched his fist, growling as he pushed himself back onto his feet. It's passed… I'm okay… Pulling out his pocket square, the Champion wiped his nose clean before shaking his head clear, his vision slowly returning to normal. Still, there is good news. He actually found something down there. I wonder what it was.

"You mind helping me to the gate, mate?" the Champion asked the reporter, he was all but certain that he'd fall over if he attempted to walk on his own.

"Oh, of course," the reporter quickly gathered his wits, pulling the Champion's arm over his shoulder and slowly leading him to the gate. "Is this um…? Actually, never mind… Do you need a Healer?"

"No… No, I'm okay," the Champion replied, both of them stopping at the closed gate.

"Turn back around, you are not welcome here," a Pukwudgie stepped forward, his jet-black eyes digging into the Champion's. Another fucking Benjamin, eh? Brilliant.

"What?" the reporter looked taken aback, before frowning deeply. "Are you blind? He needs to sit down-"

"Then, he should go home," the Pukwudgie cut in. "Sleep in his feathered bed."

The reporter scoffed in disbelief, while the Champion used his Occlumency to stop himself from crushing the grey midget's face with his bare hands.

"You Pukwudgies are such fucking assholes," the reporter said bitterly, pulling the Champion forward. "We're going through-"

"You will die before you take another step, pink-skin," another Pukwudgie spoke up, aiming a poisoned arrow straight at the now jarred reporter. Shit! I'm making him into a target!

"It's fine…" the Champion pulled away from the reporter, swaying a little before steadying himself. "Thank you, Sir, but I'll take it from here-…"

"You can barely stand-"

"It's fine…" the Champion assured the man, giving him a short smile. "Thank you."

The reporter looked between the Pukwudgies and the Champion, before letting out a sigh and giving the Champion a nod. "They're a cruel species by nature. Don't give them a reason to hurt you, because they'll gladly take it." Noted.

With that, the reporter took a few steps back, but continued to linger within the vicinity. The Champion took another step forward, and the Pukwudgies brandished their weapons for a fight. Be civil, there are too many eyes about.

"Please… I don't want to cause trouble," the Champion started hoarsely, before clearing his throat. "I only want to watch some games, and then I'll leave. I promise."

"Your lies will not work here, thief," the Pukwudgie at the forefront growled, baring his sharp teeth. I'm not a thief! It was a gift! "Leave, or, we'll bury you in these woods."

"Excuse me?!" Skeeter suddenly appeared by the Champion's side, a greedy look in her eyes. "Why are you denying him entry? Did he do something wrong?" Can you please fuck off? For one minute?! Please?!

"Step back, you barren harlot," the Pukwudgie hissed at her, bringing a scandalized look to her face. HAHA! Shit, don't laugh!

"You ugly little-…" Skeeter started, but quickly stopped, drawing in a sharp breath. "Didn't your masters teach you any manners?!"

"They're not Elves," the Champion pointed out before he could stop himself, for he knew that she couldn't tell the difference.

Skeeter narrowed her eyes on them, while they looked absolutely murderous now. Great, she pissed them off even more.

"Leave. Now," the Pukwudgie growled at them. "Last warning."

"Or, what?" Skeeter challenged. "You'll kill us?"

"Yes," the Pukwudgie answered so icily that Skeeter took a step back, her eyes widening to a comical degree. Yeah, I'm not getting through here. Not without force. I'll have to find some other way in.

"I will not forget this insult," the Champion promised, memorising the Pukwudgie at the front.

"I don't care," the Pukwudgie retorted, looking him up and down. "Go back to your miserable, wet little island."

The Champion said nothing in response, simply turning around and walking away with Skeeter at his heel. Fuck! Now, what?! Harkin's clearly put his best at the door, and the gate is no doubt sealed by Magic.

Ignoring the reporters and their ceaseless questions, the Champion studied the structure of the Quidditch Pitch. It was much like Hogwarts' Quidditch Pitch, with tall towers connected by bleachers which were only a quarter of the height of the towers. The bleachers look… scalable… What is that? Thirty feet? Forty? No, this is too bold. Even for me. But then again… Fortune favours the bold, does it not? And what exactly do I have left to lose?

The Champion smiled at the Pukwudgies, who narrowed their eyes at him. Well, if I can't go through the front door, then I'll just have to climb the fucking walls. What other choice do I have?

"Excuse me," the Champion moved past the reporters, he needed a running start. All right, let's put Cutis Terra to the test. I wonder how high I can jump if I really put my knees into it. "Move aside, please. I'm about to do something incredibly stupid!"

The reporters, although baffled, refused to do as they were told, instead following after him and chewing his ears off. All right, this should be far enough. I'm about two hundred metres away. This'll do just fine. Cutis Terra!

The Champion felt his muscles and bones harden into steel, and when he clenched his fists, his knuckles cracked loudly. LET'S FUCKING GO! Throwing himself forward, the Champion burst into a sprint, moving so terrifyingly fast that the shocked reporters had to dive out of his way just to save themselves from being obliterated.

"STOP HIM!" the Pukwudgie in the middle shouted, and another let an arrow loose without a second thought. Protego! Depulso!

With a wave of his gloved hand and a thrust from his other, the Champion sent his protective barrier forth, deflecting the arrow and forcing the Pukwudgies to raise their own shields. Now! Jump like your life depends on it, you cunt! Letting out a monstrous roar, the Champion leaped into the air, soaring up with such velocity that he himself couldn't believe his power, and yet, despite all the effort, he was only close to being halfway there. Shit, I'm still not going to make it! Brachium Colubrum!

Ethereal, green serpents shot out of his right sleeve, hissing and screaming as they wrapped themselves around the metal railing atop the bleachers, effectively acting as climbing hooks. The Champion's body slammed hard against the wooden wall, but his ghostly serpents kept him hanging twenty feet above the gawking spectators. Wasting no time, he commanded his serpents to pull him up as fast as they could, even managing to look down in time to raise another Wandless, Non-Verbal Protego with his left hand, blocking the incoming arrows and Spells.

Laughing victoriously, the Champion finally reached the top of the bleachers, quickly using his augmented strength to pull himself over the railing and landing behind a mother and her young daughter, spooking them both. And that's that! Who's the fucking king?! ME!

"Circe's breath, where did you come from?" the mother was staring at him wide-eyed, even pulling her daughter into her side for safekeeping.

"Arthur Weasley's bollocks, my good madam," the Champion undid Cutis Terra, promptly fixing his tie back into place as the woman's jaw dropped open at his blunt, but factual, response. I swear, my genius is so big that it generates its own gravity! Did Harkin really think that he could stop me? After what I pulled off the last time I was here?

The Champion shot the awed little girl a smirk and a wink, chuckling at how adorable she looked in her fairy costume and pigtails before making his way towards the stairs leading down to the pitch, where the games were being held. Only a handful of people had noticed his presence on account of Silencing Charms being erected all around the pitch, no doubt there to ensure that the players wouldn't be disturbed by any noise from the outside or the stands. Not out of the woods yet. Those Pukwudgie won't be so easily deterred, I think.

Pulling out his Cypress wand as he travelled down the stairs, the Champion cast the Disillusionment Charm on himself just as the Pukwudgies rushed inside, all of them stopping at the edges of the pitch and looking towards the point where he had climbed over, but failing to spot him thanks to his quick thinking. Grinning to himself, the Champion dusted off his suit as he reached the bottom of the stairs, moving out of the way of a Pukwudgie who rushed past him and up the stairs. Bye!

The Pukwudgie suddenly stopped a few steps up, raising his nose in the air and sniffing like a dog, most likely having caught the Champion's distinct scent. Uh-oh! Damn it, Marty! Leg it! Not wasting another second, the Champion rushed away, stopping only when he was a decent distant away from his pursuers. They weren't going to stop looking for him, that much was clear, which left him with only one option.

He had to find Octavia before he himself was found out.

Acting swiftly, the Champion looked towards the most distinct tower overlooking the pitch, one that was made with grey stone rather than wood, spotting both Harkin and Octavia sitting side-by-side. Octavia! Unlike Harkin, who was watching the games with a grim look about him from his grey, stony throne, Octavia was sitting on a humbler chair made of leaves, twigs, and wood, her bored gaze aimed towards the forests rather than the players beneath. She was also wearing a proper, strapless dress this time around, but it still only consisted of leaves and twigs, all of it kept together by her weathered, gold Gordian Knot brooch.

She looked beautiful, despite her dull expression, even the Champion couldn't say otherwise.

Smiling up at her, and without even realizing, the Champion began straightening up his clothes before combing his hair with his fingers in order to look more presentable, until very suddenly, he did realize, and his stomach turned. What the fuck am I doing…? Stop loitering about, you dumb bastard! Move!

Shooting a quick look back, and spotting the very same Pukwudgie still tracking his scent, the Champion began moving towards the stone tower, praying to the Gods that his Disillusionment Charm would be enough to hide him, given that everyone was too busy focusing on their own conversations and the games. Within a few short moments, the Champion spotted the door which would lead him into the tower, the only problem being that there were two Pukwudgies guarding it. I'm not scaling the fucking tower as well… That's just absurd. Now, what?

With a Pukwudgie hot on his tail, and two more guarding the way forward, the Champion closed his eyes and focused his mind; he needed a plan and he needed it now. C'mon! Think, motherfucker! THINK! How do you get past them without hurting them? Oh, I know! The Confundus Charm! I've never really tried it on a person before, but if I keep it simple, it'll work! All right, focus your mind, old boy. Remember what you've read; the more elaborate the trick, the more concentration and power it takes to pull off. So, keep it simple, and be quick about it.

Using his Occlumency to further empower his mind and resolve, the Champion aimed his wand at the Pukwudgie on the left, only to realize that his Spells wouldn't be under the Disillusionment Charm. Wait, not from here… They'll see the light, so I need to be in their blind spots, first. Tiptoeing towards the side of the tower, the Champion peeked around the corner and aimed his wand at the nearest Pukwudgie to him. She was watching the players with a sneer, lost in her thoughts, however, her head suddenly perked up, as if she had sensed his presence behind them. SHIT! They're like Hell Hounds! The greatest hunters, indeed!

"Confundo," You really, really need to take a piss, little Pukwudgie. It's almost leaking out already. Go on. Leave your post. It'll only be for a few minutes. No one will hold it against you.

The Pukwudgie shuddered, and then, she began shifting about uncomfortably, losing her sneer in the process. "Arvin, I have to go urinate. Do you mind?"

"Hurry back, or, the Headmaster will have you flogged for abandoning your post," Arvin growled at her, and she gave a short nod before marching away. Flogged? For taking a piss break? That's a bit much, isn't it?

"Confundo," the Champion chanted again, this time aiming for Arvin. You ate too much this morning, and if you don't find a restroom, you're going to shit yourself. It's already knocking at the backdoor, and it's coming out whether you like it or not. Go on, just take five minutes, and save yourself a lifetime of embarrassment.

Arvin shuddered, much like the Pukwudgie before him, and then, he cussed under his breath before following after his partner in a hurry. The Champion grinned, all too pleased with himself as he tiptoed around the corner and approached the door. Careful, it might be Warded. Use the glove. Reaching forward slowly with his gloved hand, the Champion gripped the handle, which immediately turned red-hot, but the Champion didn't even feel it thanks to the Magic-Negating powers of Basilisk Skin.

Opening the door just enough to slide himself through, the Champion sealed it shut behind him before letting out a long breath, his heart beating in his throat. It's okay, I've made it. I just have to climb up, now. Bloody hell, I'd make for an excellent thief, now that I think about it! Maybe the Pukwudgies were onto something, after all.

Further pleased to see that the tower itself was empty, the Champion began climbing the stairs up, stopping when he was halfway up in order to stare out of an arrow-slit. Now that I'm relatively safe, let's see if I can spot Amanda. I'd like to at least talk to her once before the day is out, see how she's progressing. His eyes quickly spotted the blonde girl in the Apprentice section of the games, she was playing against a wizard who looked only slightly older than her. I can't see the pieces from here, but I hope she kicks his arse.

His curiosity satisfied, the Champion resumed his journey up, until finally, he found himself standing in an open doorway, staring at the back of Harkin and Octavia's seats. They're both distracted. Good! Gives me a chance to make an entrance!

Undoing the Disillusionment Charm, the Champion smirked playfully as he approached Harkin from behind, suddenly leaning down and planting a kiss on the distracted Headmaster's cheek, who immediately flew off of his throne, as though he'd been scorched and branded. Hahaha!

"Good morning, Headmaster Harkin, enjoying the games?" the Champion grinned manically, nearly bursting out in laughter when he saw how stunned and horrified Harkin looked, his eyes as wide as dinner plates.

"CHAMPION!" Octavia squealed, rushing out of her chair and throwing herself onto him, clinging onto him as tightly as she could. "You came!" Woah! That's quite a greeting!

The Champion stroked her back affectionately, swallowing how uncomfortable he felt in order to keep his image of control intact. It's fine… You're perfectly fine. Don't embarrass yourself in front of Harkin, just bear with it for now.

"H-How did you…?" Harkin stammered, taking a step back before he unsheathed his wand and aimed it at the Champion's face. "Octavia, get away from him!"

"No," the dryad refused with a happy laugh, snuggling her face into the Champion's neck, making his ears go a little red. Um… What's she doing…? "You really came! I'd given up all hope!" Oh… I'm sorry I made you dread, but I'm here now, and I'm not going anywhere until we sort this mountain out.

"Octavia, get back!" Harkin ordered, and the Champion gently pushed her away from him, facing the man with his trademark smirk in place. "You arrogant little bastard…" Woah! Ease up there! "How did you get in here?!"

"I go where I please! You need to know that about me, it'll save you a lot of headaches down the line," the Champion shrugged, eyeing Harkin's wand. "Put that stick away before I take it from you. You don't want me getting angry, mate. You really don't. C'mon, let's sit down and talk. Like civilised men."

"Asmodeus… Please…" Octavia whispered with a pleading look, there was fear behind her eyes all of a sudden. "Do not threaten a Being such as him, he will kill you!" Really? That's not helping! And no, I can't just kill him. He doesn't fit my code.

Harkin blinked at her, his eyes becoming even more wary at her warning. "Who are you, boy…? How did you get past my guards…? Did you kill them also?!" What?! NO! They probably didn't come to warn you because they didn't want to be flogged!

"He is no boy, and you should bow to him," Octavia frowned deeply, further shocking the Headmaster. "You stand in the presence of a God, Asmodeus. Kneel." Can you stop helping?!

"Octavia… W-What are you saying…? Do you even hear yourself…?" Harkin took another step back; he clearly placed a lot of value in what she had to say. "A God…? What has he done to you?!"

"I'm no God, so let's have none of that, please," the Champion started, shooting Octavia a firm look.

"Champion, there is no need to be modest on our account," Octavia bowed her head, making him even more uncomfortable than before. "We are but simple playthings to one such as yourself-"

"Okay, it's quiet time," the Champion stopped her, chuckling nervously at a horrified Harkin, who was just staring at Octavia in utter disbelief. "And no, Sir, I wouldn't dare put a finger on you, or, your guards. I am a man of principles, after all. Sure, I lie and I intimidate, but I have a code, and I work very hard to abide by it. But saying that… If you start this fight, then I will end it. That much I can promise you now."

"What Dark Spell have you placed upon her?" Harkin turned his attention back to the Champion, murder lurking behind his sunken eyes. "And why is she calling you 'Champion'?" Harkin then looked back to Octavia, making her shrink. "His name is Ronald Bilius Weasley, you silly girl! You've been tricked-!"

"It is not a trick!" Octavia shot back defiantly, stomping her bare foot like an angry child. "He is the Void, the Beginning and the End-!"

"You have lost your mind!" Harkin barked at her, making her flinch. Enough! This is not going according to my plan!

"The Sages sent me a vision," the Champion decided to cut through all the nonsense, stabbing the issue right in its heart. "They're the ones who've called me here, Headmaster Harkin, because you all need my help."

"The… Sages…?" Harkin looked taken aback by his knowledge of them, though the skeletal man didn't lower his wand. "They spoke to you, did they?"

"They did," the Champion admitted, and Harkin immediately sneered once again. What? What, now?!

"Liar…" Harkin whispered icily. "The Sages speak in only Parseltongue…" Really? How interesting… "And I know for a fact that you Weasleys don't hold that particular trait within your Bloodline. You may have tricked this simple girl into trusting you, but I will not-"

"You're a prick, and so is your dad," the Champion hissed, reaching the end of his patience. "There! You fucking happy, now?" Enough is enough. There are millions of lives at stake! Get your shit together, you damn fool!

Harkin's jaw dropped open as his feet carried him back against the wall without his permission, he looked genuinely terrified. Um… That wasn't the reaction I was expecting. I mean, I know it's seen as an evil tongue, but still… He looks ready to leap off the tower rather than stand in my presence.

"…I-It can't be… How did you…?" Harkin stammered; his wide eyes unblinking. "How is this even possible-?"

"I told you, the Sages summoned me here to help you," the Champion repeated, giving Harkin a meaningful look. "I know the Site of Power within this mountain was tainted by the Dark Lord somehow, and if you just give me a bloody chance, maybe I can help you lot fix this mess before it's too late!"

Octavia beamed at him in absolute awe, while the Headmaster of Ilvermorny remained rooted in his spot, his eyes untrusting and full of fear. What? It's just a language! Sure, it's creepy, but I'm sure there are plenty of human tongues that could claim the same.

"Look… I know we got off on the wrong foot," the Champion restarted, raising his hands in surrender. "If you don't trust me, you can take my wand as a gesture of my goodwill. Here, I'll give it to you right now. How's that?" The Champion pulled out his Cypress wand and placed it in Octavia's hand, who began studying it with child-like curiosity. "Now, I'm completely at your mercy. I don't know what else I can do to make you not see me as a threat."

"See? We can trust him," Octavia offered the wand to Harkin, giving him yet another pleading look. "You yourself once told me that you respect his work greatly… You used those exact words … You two are more alike than even you realize, and that's why I trust him with all of my heart, and you should too." Finally, some proper help from her. I'll be sure to repay your trust in me, Octavia. You've made a friend for life in me, and I don't say that lightly.

"How can you trust someone who speaks in his voice…?" Harkin eventually broke free from his fears, stepping forth and snatching the wand from her hand. "How can you ask me to do the same? After… After what he did…" He's referring to the Dark Lord, I take it.

"We need him, Asmodeus," Octavia begged. "Isolt entrusted the Sages to guard the Powers within this mountain, and they have chosen their Champion." Wait… What? Their Champion? What the hell? I don't think Fate got that particular memo, lady. "You took a Sacred Vow to serve this land, and now, you must honour it. This is bigger than you and me… Bigger than our wounded prides… We failed, but he won't. I truly believe that." Octavia then reached forward, taking Harkin's bony hand in hers. "Please… Put your faith in me, as you once put your faith in my predecessor." Does she mean her last incarnation? Were Harkin and her close in her last life as well?

Harkin swallowed thickly, his sharp features slowly softening, aging him a decade in the process. "…What can he do that we haven't tried ourselves…?"

"Let's find out," Octavia answered hopefully, squeezing his hand lovingly. "Together."


Thirty Minutes Later

"I'm starting to get suspicious now, I hope you know that," the Champion said, following Harkin further into the woods. "We've been walking for ages… How large is this forest, exactly? It didn't look endless when I flew in with Brightbeak."

"These woods are alive, Champion," Octavia answered from his side, while Harkin continued to ignore him. "They conceal the way, but if we're persistent, we will find the Sacred Tree. This is a test of our determination."

"You have to do this every time you want to find it?" the Champion asked, and Octavia gave a bright smile and a nod. "That doesn't sound annoying at all…"

"Aren't you Slytherins known for your determination?" Harkin asked coolly, not bothering to look back. Ah, the statue finally speaks!

"We both know that's not what we're known for," the Champion replied, before looking to Octavia with a half-smile. "Everyone hates us, you see. Even the Professors are not exactly fond of us, save for one or two."

"And for good reason," Harkin shot a sneer back, but the Champion merely smiled at him. "You certainly have Slytherin House's innate arrogance about you, even you can't be blind to that. That's why everyone hates your House, boy. You think you're better than everyone." I won't deny that some Slytherins think this way… But still, that's my House you're talking about. Let's see how you like it, huh?

"What's wrong with being arrogant?" the Champion asked, and Harkin scoffed and shook his head in response. "I know what I'm capable of, as do most of my Housemates. That's not a crime. Maybe if you Hufflepoofs were a little more like us, you wouldn't be a bunch of losers, eh?" The Champion then looked back to Octavia, who was just smiling up at him, utterly oblivious as to what they were talking about, shooting her a playful wink. "Octavia, did you know that your Headmaster used to belong to the House of the Rejected, as we like to call it. Whenever the Sorting Hat finds a student who is neither brave, nor ambitious, nor intelligent; it's forced to throw them into Hufflepuff-"

"That is not true!" Harkin stopped and turned to face the Champion, who grinned immediately. That was too easy! You Hufflepuffs are no fun at all!

"I'm just teasing you," the Champion laughed mockingly, while Harkin drew in a sharp breath, clearly annoyed with himself for taking the bait. "Don't believe what I just said, Octavia, the truth is that Hufflepuff House represents the best of Hogwarts. The kindest, and arguably, the hardest working. I'd give my left testicle if it would allow me to bring some Hufflepuff humility into Slytherin."

Octavia giggled at his vulgarity, while Harkin rolled his eyes and returned to leading the way forward in silence. He's bitter, just as the Headmaster said. Bitter and angry. I can work with that.

"Tell me more of Hogwarts, Champion," Octavia suddenly tangled her arm with his, making him flinch as she pressed down on his Eldritch wounds. "…Champion…?" Damn it! Control yourself, you moron.

"Sorry, you spooked me…" the Champion chuckled awkwardly, holding back several cuss words. "And of course, what do you want to know?"

Octavia beamed once again, as if forgetting his reaction to her touch entirely. "Tell me of the Forbidden Forest! Asmodeus used to tell me stories when I was still a budling, but no more." Budling? As in leaf buds?

"Well, I don't exactly know much about the Forbidden Forest," the Champion started, it was one of the few places in Hogwarts he hadn't explored. "No one does, actually, save for the Headmaster and the Gamekeeper, Professor Rubeus Hagrid. I do know that it's filled with beasts of all nature, however, as well as a tribe of Centaurs-…" the Champion stopped, remembering his former mentor's crimes.

"Champion?"

"Ahem, sorry…" the Champion cleared his throat, throwing Sebastian Greengrass' fish-eyed face out of his mind. "There's a tribe of Centaurs who live and hunt within the Forbidden Forest, and believe it or not; one of them saved my life once."

"Really?!" Octavia's forest-green eyes sparkled with excitement, while the Champion shuddered at the memory of the Dark Lord gliding towards him and Draco. I thought I was going to die that night… I was certain of it.

"It's true…" the Champion answered, putting on a smile for her sake. "Me and a friend of mine found ourselves under attack from a Dark Creature in our first year, and we were both cornered with no hopes of escape." Octavia gasped, whereas Harkin turned his head slightly in order to listen in. "But then, just as the it came for us, a Centaur leaped between us and the monster, acting as our shield and driving the foul thing away. He put himself in danger without a second's hesitation, and in doing so, he saved our lives."

"He sounds very brave," Octavia looked quite pleased with the tale. "What was his name?"

"Firenze," the Champion remembered the fair, blonde Centaur with the stunning blue eyes. "He even let me ride on his back afterwards-"

"Did he, now?" Harkin shot another look back, appearing somewhat intrigued for a change. "How peculiar." It is?

"Why's it 'peculiar'?" the Champion asked, cocking an eyebrow.

"Because a human riding a Centaur is considered a great sacrilege by all Centaur-Kind," Harkin told them, his voice had lost its sharp edge. A great sacrilege? Did… Did he really do that for us? Go against his very nature to save the lives of two human children? Wait… Did I even thank him for knowingly going up against the Dark Lord on our behalf? I don't think I did…

The Champion immediately frowned at the thought, how could he have been so damn ungrateful? Honour demands I find him, then. He saved my life, and now, a debt is owed.

"Champion? What's wrong?" Octavia asked, tilting her head as she studied his human expressions. "You are angry?"

"I never thanked him," the Champion replied, feeling ashamed of the clueless boy he once was. "After we sort this out, I'll have to pay him a visit. That is, if I can find him. The Forbidden Forest is vast and full of danger, it's quite different from these lovely woods."

"Centaurs do not take kindly to humans tracking them down," Harkin said coldly. "And unlike me, they will have no qualms about taking you prisoner."

"I wouldn't be a prisoner for long, Sir, you can count on that," the Champion had already made up his mind. "And it's Firenze I owe a debt to, not his tribe. I'll thank him in secret, if what you say is-"

"There," Harkin suddenly stopped, pointing towards a grand snakewood tree standing alone in an open clearing amidst hundreds of colourful flowers. Bloody hell… Where did this come from?!

The Champion let out a whistle, it was as though the forest had suddenly parted for them, for he remembered seeing no such clearing from atop Brightbeak's back. And speaking of whom, the oversized Thunderbird was sleeping in the shade of the Sacred Tree, or at least, what little shade it could provide.

Despite its imposing size and its many branches, the Sacred Tree stood mostly naked, with so few Silver Leaves that the Champion was left jarred. And look, the tree itself has cracks all over it… Bloody hell, this is worse than I thought! How is this tree supposed to stop the 'rot' from spreading for another hundred years? It looks ready to keel over by the end of this year!

"I'm no Herbologist, but that tree looks fucked beyond all help," the Champion commented, and Harkin shot a dark look back. "With all due respect, of course."

"Your opinion has been noted…" Harkin said icily, stepping aside. "You may inspect the tree, if you wish, but know that I will be watching you. Constantly."

"Perv," the Champion smirked, further stirring Harkin's ire. All right, enough fun. Time to get to work. "I'll be right back."

"May I join you, Champion?" Octavia asked, looking far too excited for her own good. Hmm, I'll need Ravencunt's help, but to summon him I'll need to call out to him, and I'd really rather she not see me talking to myself like some loon…

"Give me a couple of minutes, then you can join me," the Champion replied, garnering a suspicious look from Harkin. "I want to see it for myself, first, that's all."

"If that is your will, Champion," Octavia bowed her head, making both the Champion and Harkin uncomfortable. That's it, I'm going to tell her that I'm not a God at some point, because this is getting out of hand.

"Octavia, stop that…" Harkin frowned deeply, shooting the Champion a particularly hateful look. "And you… Just go."

"I'll see you in a bit, eh?" the Champion said to Octavia, heading off before she could start bowing again.

Walking through the flowery field, the Champion stopped by Brightbeak's side first, kneeling down and caressing the overly-large Thunderbird's shimmering, golden feathers, which pulsed brighter with each breath he took. Brightbeak slowly began to stir, opening one of his golden eyes to see who had disturbed his slumber.

"Hello," the Champion smiled softly, and Brightbeak stared at him for a few moments before closing his eye again, dozing off immediately. "I'm glad you've recovered from our little fight, mate." The Champion then looked up to the Sacred Tree, losing his smile when he saw blood-red sap leaking from one of the cracks on its bone-white bark. "Bloody hell, I don't know anything about snakewood trees, especially Magical ones… But I know people who might." Professor Snape could analyse the sap, couldn't he? It might help us figure out what's wrong.

Standing back up, the Champion pulled out the empty vial which had once contained his Nutrition Potion, using Aguamenti to clean out the vial before using the Levitation Charm to collect a sample of the blood-red sap. Making sure that the vial was properly sealed off, the Champion pocketed it before doing a circle around the tree, noticing even more 'bleeding' wounds at the base of the thick trunk. There's more damage at the bottom than at the top. It's as though it's being poisoned from beneath, which only lends more credibility to our theory. Whatever the issue is, it's deep inside the mountain.

"Oi, can you hear me?" the Champion whispered under his breath, hoping to summon his ghostly doppelganger. "I need help here. Come back out."

"…I told you… I need rest…" came Ravenclaw Ron's tired voice from behind him. "Oh… This must be it, the Sacred Tree! You really found it, you madman?"

"Go for another dive, now," the Champion ordered, not bothering to even look back. "And don't go too far this time."

"Fine…" Ravenclaw Ron drawled, sinking into the earth with a bored expression. "You're welcome…" I didn't thank you. Just go do your job so I can do mine.

Once he was alone again, the Champion reached forward and placed his left palm against the tree's bone-white skin, closing his eyes and focusing his mind in order to sense what sort of Magic was coursing through the tree. At first, however, he felt nothing, as though the tree was utterly devoid of life, but then, when he reached further, he felt an emotion he was all too familiar with; fear.

The Champion pulled back, his expression softening. "You're afraid, aren't you? Afraid and hurt… Octavia was right; you really are alive, after all. Perhaps even somewhat sentient, given you can feel terror and dread as we do."

Now more than ever, the Champion was resolved to help this land, feeling a strange kinship with the tree that was suffering greatly, and yet, remained the first line of defence against the nightmares to come. Reaching forward again, the Champion caressed the Sacred Tree's bark, trying to comfort it.

"Everything will be all right," the Champion whispered, somewhat unsure of who he was truly speaking to; the tree or himself. "Don't be afraid, and don't ever give up. Keep fighting for just a little longer, mate, and I promise, everything will be all right. All the pain you've endured… All the hardships… It'll all be worth it, I promise you."

A sudden breeze blew past him, rustling the barren branches of the Sacred Tree, and the Champion felt the tree's fear begin to dissolve, but not entirely vanish. The Champion smiled a little to himself, glad that he could at least make one of them feel less afraid of the uncertain future. We're going to defeat this Curse, you and me. We have to!

"How did you do that, Champion?" came Octavia's voice from his right, full of awe and admiration. "The Sacred Tree… Even I cannot calm it so quickly."

"I don't know… I just talked to it," the Champion replied honestly, turning his gaze in her direction, only for his eyes to pop open at her sudden nakedness. "W-What?! You're naked!" He jerked his head back forward so fast that his neck nearly snapped, his entire body seizing up. "Why are you suddenly naked?! Where's Harkin?!"

"I convinced him to return to the games, but I had to promise him that I'd stop you if attempted to harm the Sacred Tree, not that you would do such a thing, Champion," Octavia answered simply, entirely unburdened by shame. "And I took off that itchy dress because I was uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable." What about my fucking comfort?! "I only wore it because Asmodeus informed me that I'd cause offence at the games, which still confuses me… Would you force a tree to put on a dress, Champion? I think not!" Trees don't have tits! That argument is illogical at best, and downright stupid at worst!

"It's… It's not decent, Octavia…" the Champion swallowed thickly, keeping his eyes fixed on the Sacred Tree. "Girls should be more… modest. Especially near strangers."

"You are not a stranger," Octavia giggled, clearly amused. "And I do not see myself as a 'girl', as there are no 'boy' Dryads. Gender is not a concept I have ever dwelled upon, and I don't see why that should change. I am what I am, and that is enough, is it not?" Right… I suppose calling her a girl isn't exactly accurate, seeing as she's a manifestation of nature itself.

The Champion drew in a deep breath, massaging his ever-reddening face. "You're right, of course… Sorry. It's just… I'm not used to seeing naked girls-… Fuck, I did it again…"

"Would you be less bothered if I were a boy, then?" Octavia asked, sounding genuinely curious.

"No, I'd have punched you in the face by now…" the Champion sighed out, while she blinked in confusion.

"Why?"

"Because-… Oh, never mind…" the Champion drew in another deep breath, straightening his back and squaring his shoulders before looking back to her, making sure to keep his eyes fixed on hers. "I've got what I need from the tree, so I'd best be on my way-…"

"You're leaving? So soon?" Octavia adorned a disheartened expression immediately, before looking down at her body. "I've offended you, haven't I? Asmodeus was right…"

"You haven't offended me, I promise," the Champion assured her, feeling even more awkward. "You saved my friend's life, Octavia… I don't think I could ever be offended by you."

"The leaf worked?!" she asked, her black lips stretching into a wide smile.

"It did!" the Champion smiled back, thinking of Tracey. "Sorry, it completely slipped my mind… But yes, the leaf worked! She's come back to us, and it's all thanks to you! I'll never forget what you've done for her, never! Anything you need, I'm your man!"

"My man?" Octavia repeated, her eyes glimmering with excitement at the prospect. Me and my big fucking mouth!

"No, not in that way!" the Champion quickly began to explain his error, but stopped when she broke out in playful laughter. "You did that one on purpose… That's not funny…" Okay, it's a little funny, but I'm not giving her the satisfaction.

"I had not expected you to be so-…" she stopped, stifling her giggles. "Forgive me, Champion, but the truth is that I was intimidated by you. By your mere presence, even, but I can see now that I was foolish to feel only fear." She's afraid of me? That's… That's actually fair. I did threaten her quite a bit when we first met… I deserve that.

"Yes, I have that effect on others…" the Champion didn't feel particularly proud of his power this time. "Sorry."

"For what?" Octavia asked, smiling. "All should fear you! Even the Great Mother trembles with each step you take! I feel it!" She does…? Brilliant… "You are a power even more ancient than her, and as such, she and all her children must rightfully fear you and respect you!" I see, now… Whatever power you're sensing, Octavia, it's not mine… It belongs to that fucking thing, and believe me, it couldn't give a shit about what you all feel. It'll tear you apart regardless of how much respect you show it, for that is its only function. It exists simply to devour existence; anything less would be going against its very nature…

"I would never hurt you…" the Champion felt the urge to point out, why did her words bother him so much? "You've no reason to fear me… I hope you know that."

"I know," Octavia said, reaching forward and taking his gloved hand in hers. "I feel safe with you, Champion. Safer than I've ever felt before." Oh? Well, good… Good. I'm glad you feel that way.

He smiled a little because of her kind words, grateful that she felt something more profound than merely fear in his presence. He didn't even mind her touching him without permission, feeling butterflies in his stomach rather the urge to crawl out of his skin. Her black lips stretched into another wide smile, her soft, ashen hands squeezing his gloved, deformed one until he returned the gesture. Her eyes are so beauti-…

"What's going on here?" Ravenclaw Ron whistled from behind him, and the Champion felt as though a bucket of ice-cold water had been dumped on him, waking him up from his stupor. "You sly dog… I leave you alone for five minutes, and this is what you get up to? Tsk, tsk, tsk. What would dearest Daphne say?"

Despite wanting to ignore his ghostly counterpart's comments, the Champion was bombarded with guilt and shame in equal measure, and he pulled his hand away from Octavia. He's right… I've hurt Daphne enough already, haven't I? What the fuck am I doing? Fixing up his expression, the Champion looked back to the Sacred Tree, remembering why he was truly here. I'm wasting time just loitering about… It's time I was on my way.

"Can you lead me out of this forest, please? I'll find my way back to the pitch from there…" the Champion cleared his throat, sealing away his emotions via Occlumency. "I know you want me to stay a little longer, but the sooner we heal this land, the better. Don't you agree?"

"…I do," Octavia replied, her smile faltering. "But why the pitch?"

"I need to ask your Headmaster some more questions," the Champion replied, forcing himself to ignore her noticeable disappointment. "C'mon, let's be on our way. I want to end this tree's pain as soon as possible."


Wednesday 24th March, 1994 (Ilvermorny Castle – Evening)

"Checkmate," the Champion smirked at Harkin, leaning back in his chair.

"Damnation…" Harkin growled, flicking his white king over. "Well played."

"That's three checkmates in a row-"

"I know, boy, I have eyes," Harkin stopped him, frowning. "You win… Ask your questions and be done with it."

The Champion took a victorious sip of his orange juice, smacking his lips just to add insult to injury. "You're not a bad player, Sir, you're just too defensive. The point of the game is not to save your pieces, but to take the other player's king."

"It is a dull game," Harkin said bluntly, shooting a bored look down at the closing games. "The only thing worse than playing it is being forced to watch it." So bitter… Delicious! I can't wait to turn this bitterness and anger towards my enemies!

"Then why agree to host the tournaments here?" the Champion asked, genuinely curious.

"It's part of the act… People panic when men like me stop caring," Harkin answered distantly, before looking back to the Champion. "Ask your questions, and be on your way."

"Okay… Tell me what you can of this Curse," the Champion leaned forward, matching the man's gaze. "I know you've sworn an Unbreakable Vow, so take your time, please. There is no hurry."

"This is not some mere Curse, it's something far more insidious," Harkin began, his eyes scanning the Champion's pale face. "Have you had many pimples, Mr. Weasley? On account of puberty?" Um… The fuck?

"No, I've gotten lucky…" the Champion answered slowly. "I'm sorry, what does this have to do with what we're discussing?"

"A pimple is formed when there is an excess of oil within your pores, clogging said pore until it becomes infected," Harkin went on. "Now, the oil your body produces is perfectly natural, but when outside bacteria enters a pore with excessive oil, it causes a pus-filled pimple to form. In due time, this pimple will heal on its own, but if there is too much pus inside it, then it will burst, causing damage to your skin and leaving behind a scar." What's he on about? What the hell does this mountain have to do with pimples?

"This is very riveting-" the Champion started, but stopped when he made the connection. "Oh… I get it, now… The pore is the mountain, and the excessive oil is the Magic produced by the Site of Power-"

"Not produced, exactly," Harkin cut in. "Magic exists all around us, yes, but it also exists deep beneath us."

"Beneath the Earth's crust, I know," the Champion nodded along.

"Many scholars have speculated that the Earth is held together by Magic, or, at the very least, it plays a large role in keeping this planet in one piece," Harkin told him. "Whether they are right or wrong, it matters not. What matters is that they're right when they say that Magic exists beneath our feet, and places such as this mountain act as a releasing point for that Magic. Now, hypothetically, if the 'pore' were to be blocked…" he trailed off.

"Then it would swell with Magic until it bursts, causing untold damage to everything around it and scarring the land…" the Champion sighed out, aging a decade. "Thank you, Sir… I think I have a better understanding of what's really going on, now." What a proper mess this has turned out to be.

Harkin silently studied the Champion for a few moments, before waving his hand and Conjuring another jug of orange juice. "Here, Mr. Weasley… Drink. It will help."

"Thanks," the Champion took a sip from his refilled goblet. "And this 'rot' that Octavia mentioned… What's that about?"

"Magic can be just as deadly as any poison, especially when it's tainted by the evil intent of Man," Harkin frowned to himself. "Return here this coming Sunday, and I will deliver you to the only path into the mountain. You can see it for yourself, then."

"You won't keel over and die right after, will you?" the Champion had to ask.

"No," Harkin replied, his tone suggesting that he couldn't care less. "But know this… I will not go down there with you. I refuse to." Pardon?

"What…? So, I'm supposed to help you, but you won't raise a finger to help yourself?" the Champion frowned. "What's got you so scared? I figured you'd jump at the chance to fix this mess before it's too late." Are you a coward, is that it?

"The last time I went down there, I didn't come back out for several weeks…" Harkin averted his gaze, paling even more so. "The mountain is alive, and it's not in its right mind… It creates illusions, and it constantly warps in on itself, changing shape without one even realizing…" So, like the forest around the Sacred Tree? "… I cannot go back in there, because I know I will not return this time… The mountain will consume me…" Consume you?! What. The. Fuck?

"Right…" the Champion muttered, scratching the back of his neck. "What about the Sages, then? They're down there, aren't they?"

"I haven't seen them in a long time," Harkin replied. "The only reason I know they're still alive is because they occasionally reach out to Octavia, but even then, they are as vague as ever… I would not be so quick to trust them, if I were you." Everyone keeps telling me not to trust them, it's almost as if they're the bigger problem here. "What did they say to you, exactly? It's only fair you answer my questions, seeing as I'm putting my life on the line for yours."

The Champion clenched his fists under the table, remembering their words as a cold shiver ran up his spine. "They said I could undo what he did… They didn't explain what I needed to do, simply that they needed me to 'deliver them from darkness'. Honestly, I barely understood what they were on about, but it sounded urgent."

"That certainly sounds like them…" Harkin frowned deeply. "Just be careful with them. They are dangerous." Worried about me already?

"Are they a threat to you and this school?" the Champion asked, his expression hardening.

"No, they care very little for the world above," Harkin replied. "However, if they have indeed chosen you, then I have no choice but to honour their decision. I am Oathbound…" Harkin then shifted in his grey throne, narrowing his eyes on the Champion. "How do you speak their tongue? You're a Weasley, and being a Parselmouth is a hereditary trait." It is, isn't it? Fuck…

"I don't really know," the Champion lied, keeping his fears to himself. "I just started speaking it one day, and I don't know why."

Harkin stared at him, but could find no signs of deception on the Champion's face. "Strange… Very strange. And what is this 'Void' business Octavia has been raving about?"

"You don't want to know about that," the Champion spoke from experience.

"Don't I?" Harkin challenged.

"No, you really don't," the Champion put his foot down. "If you think this business with the mountain is bad news, then you've no notion of bad. I'm sparing you a lot of pain here, trust me."

"I don't trust you," Harkin told him outright. "Any man who must hide his true nature is not worthy of trust." True enough… "If you cannot be honest with me, then we're done here. I will not waste another second of my day on you." Does he think such a pathetic line will work on me?

"That's fine, I've already got what I needed," the Champion stood up, fixing his suit into place. "What? You thought that'd work? I'll see you on Sunday, Sir. Bright and early."

Harkin said nothing in response, turning his cold gaze back to the closing games. He didn't say no, that's all I care about. Sunday, then… I'll wish Amanda the best and then be on my way, the Headmaster and Professor Snape will be happy to learn of everything I've discovered today.


Thirty Minutes Later

It felt wrong sitting on the bleachers, being a part of the audience instead of the action, but the Champion was mindful enough to keep a smile on his face, acting as though being sidelined didn't bother him. His fellow Junior League competitors had taken notice of his presence at last, and although a few looked sorry to see him not competing, the majority of them had made their pleasure at his disqualification quite apparent, shooting him smug smirks and sniggering at him amongst each other.

However, despite the disrespect being shown to him, the Champion had simply smiled at them as well, for he knew they could never hope to beat him fairly. Especially not that little tart Olivia Jones, who looked to be the most pleased of the lot. I hope a Death-Eater eats her cunt face-… No… No. She's just another stupid little girl, and she doesn't deserve such a fate… Calm down, old boy. It's just a fucking game, nothing more. You have more important matters to focus on, now.

As Ms. Thorne, the kind announcer from last year's tournament, gave the closing address, the Champion rose out of his seat and began making his way outside, hoping to speak to Amanda away from the public's eye. Knowing that the reporters were waiting outside for him specifically, he was especially careful to make sure he looked his absolute best, all the while wondering why he wasn't using the back exit as he had before with Harkin and Octavia. It's for the best that I tell them that Harkin was nothing but gracious, and was even kind enough to host me in his tower. No need to hurt the man's reputation now that he's onboard.

As he neared the gate, the Champion heard quick-paced footsteps approaching him from behind, and he immediately turned around with his wand unsheathed, only to come face-to-face with a wide-eyed Fleur Delacour. You?! Why are you sneaking up on me?!

"…I… Sorry, is zis a bad time?" Delacour squeaked in her thick accent, and the Champion quickly sheathed his wand before anyone spotted them. "Merci beaucoup…"

"Sorry about that," the Champion apologized, but not really meaning it. "But you shouldn't sneak up on people like that… It could get your head blown off." And rightfully so.

"'ead blown off?" she repeated, sounding more confused than alarmed. "Sorry, my English is not so good yet. I 'ave a new tutor, but it is still 'ard. What do you mean by 'blown off'?" Wow, it has improved! Last time I heard her talk, I wanted to claw my own ears off! Good on you!

"It doesn't matter," the Champion put on his best act, looking her over. "You are Venus reborn, Lady Delacour. Truly." Now, what do you want from me, huh?

"Merci," Fleur laughed, her voice as light as air. "You are kind to say zis, Monsieur Weasley."

"I am a champion of truth! I can't help myself," he grinned, making her laugh again. "What can this ugly brute do for you, Madame?"

"Oh! Very good!" she seemed pleased with his limited use of French. "I saw you leaving, and wished to say 'ello." You stopped me for such a stupid reason? No, you want something from me, I can bloody tell.

"Well, hello to you as well," the Champion said, not in the mood to do any more favours for strangers. "Now, if there's nothing-"

"I am sorry for your loss," Fleur cut in, her large, deep blue eyes full of pity. "Ze games and…" she trailed off, staring at him as if he were some wounded puppy. Fucking hell… I hope Fudge is sucking demon cocks in Hell!

"That is thoughtful of you…" the Champion said awkwardly, wishing that he'd been just a little faster in leaving. "How is your health? And your family's?" And are you still sending my brother secret letters? He knows you're not of age, right?

"Zey are very well, I zank you," Fleur replied, reaching forward to stroke his pale cheek, but pulling her hand back in surprise when he jumped back. "Oh, I did not mean to be rude!" Then, don't touch strangers without their permission!

"I don't like being touched, even by my family," the Champion told her plainly, putting on another smile promptly. "It makes me uncomfortable. Deeply uncomfortable." And more importantly, it genuinely pisses me off.

"Sorry…" she apologized again, still bewildered by the fact that any wizard would dare pull away from her touch. "Um… Are you 'ere for Amanda? To um… What do zey say? To cheer for 'er?"

"Something like that," the Champion replied, mildly interested now that Amanda's name had popped up. "Are you here to do the same?" From what I remember, she's not exactly fond of Veela. She told me herself that one of you Veela stole her bloody boyfriend simply because you could.

"I am," Fleur smiled brightly, her flawless, fair skin radiating with a faintly silver glow. "She and I 'ave become friends! She is very popular, now! I 'ad no idea she was so funny! I 'ave come to watch 'er play! We are staying togezzer!" So, as soon as she becomes popular, you Veela show up to become her friends? Vultures, the lot of you.

"I'm glad to hear that she's not being mistreated by the Veela students anymore," the Champion said, relishing a little when he saw guilt flash across her porcelain face. "But I'm sure you were never a part of that mistreatment… Let's keep it that way, shall we?"

"…Of course…" she replied nervously, the unsettling mixture of his cold eyes and happy smile visibly intimidating her. If she ever sends me a letter stating that you Veela are bothering her again, I'll be at Beauxbatons the next day. That's a promise.

"Actually, since you two are friends now, mind doing me a favour?" the Champion asked in a playful tone, deciding to get rid of her so he could move on with his day. "Tell her I'll be waiting for her at the front of the castle. I want to head out before the crowds start moving, you see? People gawk at me wherever I go, and it's quite bothersome."

Fleur blinked in concentration, as if trying to piece his words together. "I will tell 'er zis, yes. But first…" she smiled shyly, pulling out a letter from her powder-blue robes. "Promise to give zis to your big brozzer? William, not ze muscly one. A favour for a favour, no?" And this is why she approached me. Whatever, if it'll get her to leave me be, I'll take it.

"I hope you two aren't doing anything that could hurt your reputations," the Champion teased as he took the letter, making her cheeks go red. I'm not joking. Hurt his future at your own peril, Veela.

"We are only friends, 'e and I…" she assured him, sounding a little downcast about it. "Your brozzer is ze perfect gentleman…" And that bothers you? Whatever, I couldn't care less.

"I will deliver it the next time I see him," the Champion tucked the letter away, giving her a parting nod. "Take care, Venus."

"You too, Monsieur Weasley," she smiled more fully, even giving him a curtsy.

Not wasting another second, the Champion turned around and made his way out of the Quidditch Pitch, shooting a smirk at the glaring Pukwudgies guarding the gate as he swaggered past them. They looked murderous, to say the least, but the Champion, in his bitterness, found them to be nothing more than pathetic losers who were incapable of accomplishing even the simplest of tasks. You know what? I hope Harkin does flog you, and I hope he doesn't hold back in the slightest. Fuck you, you ugly midgets-!

"Mr. Weasley!" the reporters charged him immediately, blocking his path towards the castle. "Mr. Weasley, a moment of your time?!"

"The Headmaster allowed you to watch the games?!" a female reporter from Witch Weekly shouted over the others. "Despite your stunt?! Which, I might add, was quite amazing!"

"What manner of Spell did you use to jump that high?! It was unlike anything I've ever seen!"

"Are you going to report these foul creatures for threatening your life?! You really should!"

"Please, don't yell at me, as loud noises are not good for my health," the Champion tapped his temple, enjoying the misery he brought these vultures through guilt. "And yes, Headmaster Harkin not only allowed me to watch the games, but he even invited me into his own tower. He's a solid bloke, and I've nothing but respect for him and his many great works." The Champion then smiled mischievously. "Terrible chess player, though, but I gave him some handy pointers to polish up his game."

The reporters laughed, save for one; Rita Skeeter.

"Will you two be collaborating together in the near future, then?" Skeeter asked, shoving herself to the front again. Oh, this is a good opportunity to force him into working with me. I reckon we'll do great things together!

"I would like that very much," the Champion started. "He has done wonders for many Centaurs, Dryads, and Fae within the States, and I believe I can learn a lot from him." Especially about Centaur-Kind. I'll definitely need his help with them.

"You plan to bring his… philanthropy… into Magical Britain?" Skeeter asked, sticking her nose up. "Surely, you've done enough charitable work already, and should look to your own health and well-being-"

"That's the thing about charitable work, Ms. Skeeter, you can never do enough," the Champion cut in, knowing full well that this woman had built her entire career on scandals and the misery of the defenceless. "There's always some poor soul out there that needs compassion and understanding, and I plan to provide both for as long as I am able."

The majority of the reporters looked enamoured with him, while Skeeter forced her bright-red lips into a shaky smile, her ruthless eyes threatening him with further scathing articles. Go on, do what you must, Skeeter, and I will do what I must, because soon enough, we'll both be food for worms. Nothing will change that.

"Please, excuse me," the Champion said as he began making his way through the reporters, keeping a pleasant smile on his face for the flashing cameras.

As he walked the cobblestone path leading back to the castle, the Champion found his mind racing with ideas. Not only would he reach out to Firenze, but he would ask the brave Centaur to teach him about Centaur culture, and more importantly, their struggles. And once I'm better educated in their ways, I will find the tribe that bastard Greengrass poisoned… I will find them, and I will help them in any way I can. I will make amends for his mistakes. But before I can do all that…

The Champion came to a stop at the feet of Isolt's marble statue, staring up at her serene, wise face with a blank expression. He stood there, in complete silence, for several minutes, before he heard someone running up behind him.

"Hello, Amanda," the Champion greeted without looking back, forcing himself to smile once again.

"Ronald…" she panted, coming to a stop by his side. "You're really here… I thought Fleur was making up stories…"

"It's good to see you again," the Champion turned to face her, promptly being pulled into a tight embrace. I knew that was coming.

He stood perfectly still, keeping his discomfort to himself even when she kissed both his cheeks. "I'm so sorry that you were disqualified! It is completely unfair! My mentor spoke out against the decision, as did many other mentors, but those horrible people from the Club wouldn't listen!" Frederick Laurent spoke out on my behalf? Well, that's something, at least…

"It's all right, they are merely enforcing the rules," the Champion all but whispered, swallowing his bitterness by reminding himself that there were more important things to worry about. "I missed the first five games… It wouldn't be fair to the others if I was given an exemption."

"Who cares about what's fair?" Amanda pulled back, surprised by his words. "Ronald, they're cheating you! Even if you missed the first day, I'm sure you would've been in the Top Eight regardless! No, it's obvious that they are punishing you for exposing them last year! Ugh! I spit on them and their rules!" Her English has improved quite a lot, it's impressive.

"It doesn't matter… Let them enjoy their little victory," the Champion said, not wanting her to stir their ire as well. "Tell me about yourself, why don't you? How are you faring in the Amateur League?"

"Not as well as you would have," she replied, giving him a sorry smile. "I've won seven, and lost eight… Some of the older players are really good. Far too good for me… But I'm learning a lot from them! I want to finish with more wins than losses, that's my goal now." Good on you. Most people tend to give up when things don't go their way, but not you. I was right, you'd be sorted into Gryffindor within a heartbeat.

"I'm glad you're not wallowing in self-pity," the Champion felt a tinge of pride, his features softening. "And that's an admirable goal, Amanda. Most would've lost hope in your shoes."

"You give me too much credit…" she muttered under her breath, blushing. "I… I'm sorry, Ronald… I've not been a good friend to you…" Huh? Why? What did you do? "I should've written to you after that sham trial… You needed a friend, and I wasn't there…"

"Oh, that… No, don't worry about it," the Champion assured her.

"But that's the problem… I can't stop worrying about it," she admitted, looking terribly concerned. "I didn't know you were so… unwell… Both in mind and body… I didn't know what to say, where to even start-"

"Amanda, it's okay," the Champion stopped her, giving her a genuine smile. "You couldn't have possibly known, I made damn sure of that. But now… Now, the cat is out of the bag, and there's no stuffing it back in."

"You must be so scared…" she whimpered, her eyes becoming wet. Of dying? No. Of remaining alive a second more than I need to? Terribly so.

"Fear is an old friend," the Champion said distantly, shooting a look towards the approaching crowds. "Walk with me?"

"To where?" she asked, wiping her eyes clear.

"I want to leave before the crowd catches up," the Champion began leading the way inside, Amanda following quickly at his heel. "I hear you've become very popular-"

"Can we talk about you?" Amanda cut in, sniffling. "H-How long do you have left…?" Ugh… I don't want to talk about me. Nothing spoils my mood faster. "You don't have to tell-"

"Not long," the Champion answered, stifling a groan when she stopped and let out a heart-wrenching sob.

"I'm so sorry, Ronald…" she cried as the Champion turned to face her, pulling out his pocket square and offering it to her.

Amanda accepted it with trembling hands, but just as she went to blow her nose, her eyes became as wide as dinner plates when she saw splotches of blood staining the pocket square. Fucking hell! I'm such a cunt!

"Sorry… I…" the Champion trailed off, letting out a long sigh as he took the pocket square back. "I had a nosebleed, that's all."

She just stared at his pale face, studying the bags under his eyes and how colourless his lips were, all life draining from her own face soon enough. Her silence was unnerving, to say the least, and the Champion found himself staring back at her, not knowing what to say or do to ease her concerns. I think I'll just go… It was a mistake to approach her during the games, especially when I knew she was at my trial. I've hurt her chances at winning by distracting her with my problems.

"…It was good to see you again, Amanda," the Champion gave her a sorry smile, turning to leave. "I'll write to you soon, I promise."

Leaving her behind in the Entrance Hall, the Champion began ascending the spiralling staircase, only to stop halfway when he heard her sobbing from below. His heart clenched painfully as he covered his ears with his hands, cursing himself for always bringing misery to those he cared for, before silently resuming his journey out of Ilvermorny. Soon… It will end soon… It has to.


Daphne Greengrass' POV

Friday 26th March, 1994 (Greengrass Manor – Near Midnight)

Daphne rolled about in her bed, tossing and turning relentlessly; sleep had been evading her over the last couple of days. Letting out a frustrated grunt, she shoved her covers off and sat up, deciding to go for a nightly stroll in order to clear her head. Maybe I'll go sit with the Fairies for a bit. They're always so happy and beautiful. It'll help clear my head, I'm sure of it.

Ron's sickly complexion and Millie's disappearance were weighing heavily upon Daphne, so much so that even Tracey's return could no longer distract her. She'd been by Tracey's side every single day, helping her in her recovery and sneaking her sweets whenever her parents or Nurses weren't about, and yet, Daphne's mind was always in danger of drifting away.

And whenever Tracey did ask about Millie and Ron, Daphne found herself lying without hesitation, an act that she resented deeply. But what else was she supposed to do? Tell Tracey the truth? It had crossed her mind several times, but she was too weak to see her best friend hurt once again. Next week… Next week, I'll tell her the truth… I'll tell her that Millie's become unreachable, and that Ron's given up on himself completely… The others will never do it, so it has to be me-…

"You should be in bed, little Lady," came a deep voice from up ahead, and Daphne finally noticed that she'd walked absentmindedly all the way to the stairs.

"Who goes there?" Daphne demanded, straightening her back and puffing out her chest. "Reveal yourself."

A tall man stepped out of the shadows, one of Jürgen's band of killers. "Why is the little Lady strolling about in the dark? At this late hour, no less?"

"Your job is to protect me, not question me," Daphne was quick to put the mercenary in his place, huffing in indignation. "And you will address me properly, am I clear?"

The green-eyed, bald mercenary merely laughed at her, much to her chagrin, before turning around and walking away. "Go back to bed, little Lady. Before you set off our Wards." Wards? Ugh… I can't even go outside, then!

Daphne drew in a sharp breath, her father, upon his return, had made it quite clear to his mercenaries that they were to only listen to his wife in his absence, not his daughters. It had been nothing short of mortifying, but Daphne wasn't surprised… She was all too used to being an afterthought in her family, the one who was to obediently serve and never question her 'noble' mother and father. As a child, she'd lie to herself and think that her father was grooming her to be strong-willed, to be able to carry herself with dignity even in the face of scorn, but she knew better now…

He did not love her, not as he loved his youngest and his wife, and coming to terms with this cruel reality broke her heart even more so. Ron was right… It hurts being last… It hurts so much that I can't bear it! It's not fair! I've always been the obedient daughter, and this is my reward?! To be threatened for speaking out of turn just once?!

"If you ever disrespect your mother again, you'll be sleeping with the dogs!" her father's icy voice rang in her mind, further poisoning her with bitterness and despair. "But only after I have you whipped by your Elf! You will not be warned again!"

It all made sense now… The lack of letters from her parents compared to the entire essays Tori received weekly. Tori always receiving three gifts to her one. The constant commands to put Tori's needs first, no matter the situation. Even the sorry fact that Tori's lack of discipline was rewarded time and time again, whereas Daphne was threatened with beatings whenever she stepped out of line.

Oh, it all made sense now, and it filled her with a desire to see her little sister be mistreated for a change. She'll get hers one day, and I'll not raise a finger to help her. You can count on that, father. When her disgusting behaviour finally catches up to her, I'll just laugh in her face!

As she marched past her father's study, a pair of hushed voices caught her attention, bringing her to a stop. They were coming from inside the study, her father hadn't put up a Silencing Charm as he usually did, most likely because it was so late.

She knew better than to spy on others, but right now, she couldn't have cared less. Maybe I'll find out why father's left Ron in America all by himself… Tori mentioned that they had some fight, and mother's been very cold to him ever since he came home. What did you do to him, you heartless cretin?

Placing her ear against the door, Daphne held her breath to steady her nerves.

"…don't care for your damn excuses, Jürgen," came her father's voice, cold as the grave. "I gave you a fucking order, and you've failed me!"

"With all due respect, Sir, I'm better suited for murder than tracking down horses," Jürgen countered, belligerent as always. Murder?! What are they talking about?!

"They are not-…! They are not horses…" her father growled. "How can a tribe of Centaurs just vanish off the face of the Earth? Explain that to me!"

"I don't know, Sir," Jürgen replied. "My guess would be that they're dead."

"No… No, that cannot be…" her father's voice faltered, surprising her. "They were given plenty of gold to meet their needs-"

"Maybe that was their undoing, Sir," Jürgen interrupted. "People kill for gold, and Centaurs aren't exactly subtle. They no doubt showed their gold to the wrong wizards, and it ended badly for them." Why is father interested in Centaurs? He despises those who are not human. He doesn't even like the Fae living within our gardens… He only tolerates them for mother's sake.

"Hire more eyes… Find them, Jürgen, and I will make you a very rich man-" her father suddenly stopped. "You dare raise your finger to me?!"

"There is a woman at the door, I can smell her blood," Jürgen hissed, turning Daphne into a statue built out of dread and regret. My blood?! What the fuck?! I have to run! Before father catches me!

She managed two steps back before the door swung open, revealing a grinning Jürgen. "Well, well… If it isn't the little Lady herself. Bad luck about that period, girl… You could've gotten away with this impudence if your body didn't betray you." He-… He knows about my-… Oh, Gods! He's really a monster, isn't he?!

Daphne's face turned as white as snow; she knew she was done for now.

Just as she turned to flee, Jürgen grabbed her by the back of her neck, ignoring her cry of pain as he roughly dragged her into the study and shoved her towards her father's desk. That really hurt! Why did I spy on them?! I'm so stupid-!

"You're spying on me, now? Have your senses abandoned you completely?" her father's cold voice froze her blood. "You may leave, Jürgen. You have your orders."

"What? You want me to go, now?" Jürgen asked, but one look from Sebastian Greengrass was all it took to make him more agreeable. "As you wish, Sir… I expect you to keep your word-"

"You will be paid handsomely, now go," Sebastian dismissed him, his unfeeling eyes fixed on his trembling daughter. "And as for you… Explain yourself. Now."

Daphne remained rooted in her spot, sniffling as her fingers timidly massaged her aching throat. Jürgen had nearly choked the life out of her, and she was sure to bruise by the morning. Forget your neck… Father is going to beat you bloody-…

"Answer me!" Sebastian slammed his fist on the table, making her jump and sob.

"I'm so-… I'm s-sorry, father…" she cried meekly, shrinking away from him. "I heard v-voices, and I was curious… I'm sorry-"

"Stop that weeping, you little coward!" Sebastian barked, shooting out of his chair and marching over to her.

She closed her eyes and tensed up, ready to be struck down, but the beating she was expecting never came. When she slowly opened her eyes again, she saw her father lowering his raised hand, his jaw clenched so tightly that his entire face was shaking as a result. He looked murderous, but he did not strike her. Instead, he drew in a sharp breath, taking a step back in order to regain his senses.

"…Show me your neck…" he whispered frigidly, his hands clenching and unclenching.

She dared not move, afraid that he'd strike her when she least expected it. He smelled of Brandy, and judging from the empty bottle sitting on his table, he'd been drinking heavily.

"Daughter, I will not harm you…" he frowned at her disobedience, and she felt her feet carry her forward. "…Good… Now, let me see."

Daphne sniffled as she pulled her hands away from her throbbing neck, trying her hardest to regain her composure, but failing to do so. Her father hissed something under his breath, his features softening ever so slowly. I hate this family! I wish I lived with the Weasleys! What did I do to be treated like some unwanted guest in this house?! I hate all of you-!

"I'm sorry, Daphne," her father sighed out; guilt written all over his face now. "I will speak with him; he shouldn't have handled you so carelessly."

"…It's o-okay…" her voice cracked; she was still too much of a coward to speak her mind. I wish I had Ron's spine… No one would dare manhandle me, then… Not even you

"No, it isn't," her father pulled out his wand, tapping it against the side of her neck.

Immediately, she felt the pain dissipate, leaving only a cool sensation behind. Woah… That feels amazing. Feeling a little less scared, Daphne finally met her father's gaze, and was surprised to see the wrath behind his eyes replaced with concern.

"Why were you spying on me, daughter?" he asked, his expression becoming unreadable once again. "What has gotten into you as of late? First, you break your mother's heart, and now, you openly defy me? This isn't like you at all. Tell me, what is wrong?" Wrong? The way I'm treated is wrong! You humiliated me in front of all those jeering mercenaries! They laugh behind my back everywhere I go! I've always done as I've been told, and still, you love Astoria more than me! You even love Ron more than me! What's my fault?! Tell me!

"…Nothing, father… I am sorry-"

"Stop saying that, and answer my question," he interrupted, and for a moment, Daphne wanted nothing more than to let all of her growing bitterness out.

However, she maintained her silence, knowing that she'd lose what little respect he had for her if she started whining about how she truly felt. Sebastian Greengrass was not a man who respected weakness, and despite how she was feeling lately, she still needed her father to respect her.

Not only as his heir, but as her own person.

"What did you overhear?" Sebastian asked instead.

"You are looking for some tribe of Centaurs," Daphne answered, lowering her gaze. "They've gone missing."

"What else?"

"Nothing else, father…"

Silence fell between them, but it did not last very long. "Daughter, what do you think of Centaur-Kind? Do you know much about them? From your classes?" Centaur-Kind? We haven't really done much study on them yet. The only Centaur I know of is the one who saved Ron's life once. What was his name again? Firenze? Yes, that's it.

"I don't know much, but I know they're brave and hardy," Daphne replied, silently thanking Firenze within her heart for protecting her beloved. "Oh, and they can divine the future from the stars, but I've no notion of how they accomplish such a feat."

"Brave and hardy… What makes you say that?" he sounded genuinely curious, much to her bewilderment. Why is he so interested in Centaurs all of a sudden? "Well? Do you know any Centaurs?" The truth about the Dark Lord is out, so I suppose there's no harm in telling him…

"Ron and Malfoy were attacked by the Dark Lord within the Forbidden Forest back in first year…" she started, stopping when she saw her father's eyes widen from shock. "Father?"

"Go on…"

"…A Centaur named Firenze saved their lives," she continued slowly, further surprised to see her father's eyes become entirely vacant. "He threw himself between them and the Dark Lord, and then carried them both back to safety. I don't know much about their people, but they must be very brave to raise such a fearless warrior… That's all I know."

Sebastian nodded absentmindedly, and then, he shuddered before covering his face with his hands, an act that genuinely shook Daphne to her core. She had never seen the man act so… vulnerable, and it scared her the wits out of her.

"Father, what is wrong?" she all but whispered, her tongue turning to lead when he sniffled. Is… Is he crying?! "Father, tell me! What's wrong?!"

"…Your foolish father has made a terrible mistake, Daphne…" he sounded as though he were being strangled, and Daphne was quick to reach out to him, her anger and bitterness forgotten. "I have hurt our family… I have hurt your mother, you, and Astoria with my short-sightedness and pride…" he wept at the end, bringing fresh tears to her eyes as well. "…I broke Ron's heart, and he'll never grace these walls with his presence again…" What did he just say? He hurt Ron?!

Daphne stepped back at that, feeling as though he had finally struck her. "…What do you mean by that? What did you do to him? What did you do, father?! Is that why he looked so wretched?! What did you do?!"

"…Years ago, I was faced with a dilemma which any other man would have solved amicably, but I was proud…" he whispered, wiping his face and clearing his throat. "I could not withstand being disrespected by them… That's the real truth… Their ancestors galloped across that land long before Wizarding-Kind conquered Magical Britain… It was sacred to them… So, when I showed up with a deed written up by wizards, by the Ministry, they rejected it, and I… I wanted to hurt them for forgetting their place…" Daphne just stood there, her mouth hanging open in horror. "…I poisoned their crop, and I was glad when I heard them wailing for their children in the night…" Shut up! Shut up right now!

"Monster…" Daphne blurted out, stepping back until she bumped into the chess table, knocking it over. You killed children, and you were glad? You committed murder over a land dispute? What…? Why are you telling me this?! I don't want to know something so deplorable!

Sebastian looked as though she'd stabbed him in the heart, and when he reached for her, she recoiled away from him in disgust.

"Don't touch me!" she screamed, both horrified and repulsed by him. No wonder Ron looked so-… So broken! You vile monster! Are you trying to finish them off?! To silence them forever?! Is that why you're searching for them?!

"Daphne-"

"You truly are a Death-Eater! Get away from me!" she ran for the door, fear seizing control over her mind and limbs.

"Daphne, come back!" Sebastian gave chase, but all those morning runs with Ron finally paid off, and Daphne easily left her inebriated father in the dirt.

"Little Lady?" one of the mercenaries called out to Daphne as she bolted past him. "Why are you-?"

"Stop her, you damn fool!" Sebastian barked, but Daphne had already turned the corner. I have to get out of here! But where do I go?! Where the fuck do I go?!

Bursting into the greeting room, Daphne came to a rough stop at the nearest fireplace, her heart jumping into her throat when she realized that none of the fireplaces were lit. NO! I don't have my wand! What do I do, now?!

"Spinny! Spinny, help me!" Daphne cried out; she could hear her father's army chasing after her.

Her Elf cracked into the room, her eyes droopy and her tiny body swaying. "Mistress called Spin-?"

"Fire! Fire, now!" Daphne begged, pointing to the fireplace. "Hurry!"

Immediately alert at hearing the terror behind her Mistress' voice, Spinny snapped her fingers and the fireplace roared to life.

"ELF!" Sebastian's voice stopped them in their tracks, and they both looked to see him and his mercenaries enter the room. "I order you to stop her! Before she hurts herself-!"

"I'll tell everyone if you follow me!" Daphne warned him, stopping him in his tracks. "I'll do it!"

"Daphne… Daphne, please…" he panted, shoving one of his overzealous men back into formation. "Don't move! Stay where you are, all of you! And stop pointing your wands at her! That's my daughter!"

"Don't follow me…" Daphne managed, feeling sick at the thought of him sipping his Apple Brandy as he ordered the deaths of children. He was glad… He was fucking glad!

"Spinny, stop her," Sebastian ordered, and the Elf looked between the two, looking torn. Spinny…? No… Please…

"Master will not touch the young Mistress," Spinny turned to face Sebastian defiantly, filling Daphne's quivering heart with hope. "Spinny will not allow it!"

"You disloyal worm-…" he stopped, drawing in a sharp breath before giving Daphne a pleading look. "Daughter, please… You're scared, I know, but you have nothing to fear from me-…"

"Sebastian?! What is all this noise?!" came Mary's voice, and when he looked away, Daphne seized the chance to grab a fistful of floo powder.

"The Burrow!" she blurted out without thinking, throwing the floo powder into the flames.

"Go, Mistress, Spinny will guard-!" Spinny started, but yelped when Daphne grabbed her by the arm and yanked her through the floo as well.

They both landed on the wooden floor of the Weasleys' living room, and while Daphne broke into sobs, Spinny shot up to her feet and froze the flames within the fireplace with Elf Magic. Oh, what have I done?! Why did I run-?!

"Mistress!" Spinny was by her side within a heartbeat, and Daphne found herself weeping into Spinny's little chest. "Mistress! What has happened-?!"

"Daphne?!" Arthur Weasley's voice interrupted them. "What's wrong?! What happened to you?!"

"I-I am s-sorry… for disturbing y-you…" she couldn't even breath anymore, looking towards the doorway and seeing Mr. and Mrs. Weasley rush to her side.

"Hush, love, hush!" Molly pulled both Daphne and Spinny into a loving embrace, and Daphne clung to the dishevelled woman as if she were the last safe haven on Earth. "Arthur?! Do something!"

"Daphne, tell me what happened!" Arthur looked to be in a panic. "Was your Manor attacked?! Was it the Death-Eaters?!"

"N-No… I can't go home…" Daphne sobbed, much to their shock and confusion. "P-please… Let me stay with you… Just f-for a little…"

"Mum?! Dad?!" Charlie came rushing in with his wand drawn, followed promptly by Bill, Kirsten, and Percy. "What's going on?! Are we under attack?!"

"Daphne?" Bill moved past Charlie, kneeling beside his parents. "Dad, what happened?!"

"I… I don't know…" Arthur answered, watching Daphne sob her heart out.

"Go put the kettle on!" Molly ordered, tightening her hold on Daphne. "Stop just standing there, you buffoons! Make yourselves useful!"

"You heard your mother!" Arthur raised his voice, his large hand gently stroking Daphne's hair. "Go!"


One Hour Later

Daphne felt her eyes droop shut, only for her to jerk herself awake.

"Shhh," Molly hummed, caressing her long hair. "I'm still here, Daphne. You're all right."

Daphne relaxed again, feeling both safe and guilty. Safe, for she knew the Weasleys would protect her no matter what, and guilty, for she knew she had disturbed their entire household with her hysterics. They had been nothing but hospitable, of course, even Ginevra, who had scolded her older brothers for failing to make a decent cup of hot chocolate before doing it herself. They had all come together as a family to make her feel better, treating her as one of their own without question.

However, once Molly and Arthur were alone with her, the questions had started, and Daphne had chosen to protect her father's dark secret without a second thought, for loyalty to loved ones was taught to her even before she had started learning to walk. Instead, she had been forced to tell them of how unloved and unappreciated she had been feeling lately, especially when it came to her own parents. And once she had started, she had discovered that she just couldn't stop, telling them insecurities she had only ever shared with Ron.

By the end of her ravings and sobbing, she had expected them to be disgusted by her weak character, but instead, they had both hugged her so lovingly that she had broken down all over again. They're such good people… That's why Ron has such a beautiful soul. He's their son, the best of both of them.

"Molly, she needs to sleep," Arthur spoke up, breaking the silence. "Daphne, you can stay here as long as you like. I'll go speak with your father tomorrow, and if he gets uppity with me, I'll clock him-"

"Arthur!" Molly hissed, and he raised his hands in surrender. "Don't listen to this oaf, Daphne, save for the part of staying with us. Our home is your home."

"…Thank you…" Daphne whispered weakly, too drained to muster anything more.

"And you as well, Spinny," Arthur looked to the worried Elf, giving her a friendly smile. "We'll set you both up in Ginny's room-"

"Can I sleep in Ron's room?" Daphne asked, making both Mr. and Mrs. Weasley go silent.

"Um… Love, I don't think he'd allow that…" Molly said apologetically. "You know how he is… Better than most, you know."

"If you want privacy, I can ask Ginny to sleep in Bill's room," Arthur tried.

"He won't mind if it's me," Daphne assured them, despite knowing that he was angry with her because of her father's crimes. Ron doesn't forget… Ron doesn't forgive… He must hate me, now, just as he hates father. "Please? If he becomes angry, I'll tell him it was my idea."

The Weasleys exchanged looks, and then, Arthur let out a long sigh. "Spinny, come with me. We have some of Ginny's old clothes-"

"No clothes!" Spinny shot out of her seat in panic. "Mistress?!"

"I'm not your mistress, so you can relax," Arthur said gently, giving her a sad smile. "Me giving you clothes will change nothing, I promise. It gets cold in this house at night, and I won't have you sleeping in a rag. C'mon, let's find you something warm to wear."

"Go with him…" Daphne sat up on her own, giving Spinny an encouraging smile. "He's right, our bond will not break if he gives you clothing." I'll never forget your loyalty to me, Spinny. Never.

Giving Daphne a worried look as she followed Arthur out, both him and Spinny left for upstairs. Daphne sat motionless for a few more minutes, until Molly rose up and offered her a hand. Daphne took it silently, rising to her feet with Molly's help.

"Everything will be fine," Molly smiled lovingly, fixing Daphne's hair behind her ears. "Parents and children fight, but in the end, no parent can ever stop loving their child. Your mother and father love you, Daphne, they love you more than anything in this world."

"…It doesn't feel like they do…" Daphne felt her eyes hurt, as they were now too dry to form tears.

"I know," Molly hugged her, kissing her temple. "They've failed to show you just how loved you are, and if you want me to, I'll go down tomorrow and scold them both." Scold them? My father will poison you and bury you in his garden… You don't know him… I don't know him…

"Please, don't…" Daphne begged, holding onto her tightly. "I don't want that."

"Okay, then I won't," she promised, pulling back and guiding her towards the doorway. "Come along, what you need is a good night's rest."

They walked up the stairs in silence, but came to a stop on the second floor when Fred and George's door suddenly swung open, revealing Fred. "Oi, George! Toss it to me!"

"What are you two-?" Molly started, but stopped when her son handed Daphne a box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans.

"We've got more if you need," Fred smiled, taking her by surprise.

"…Thank you…" she muttered, staring at him.

"What is that stench?" Molly sniffed the air, frowning deeply. "Fred? George?"

"Oh, we're making bombs," Fred sniggered, and both Molly and Daphne's jaws dropped open. "Goodnight, ladies."

He closed the door with a disturbing grin plastered across his face, leaving them both speechless. Bombs…? He said bombs, right? I didn't mishear that, did I?

"Bloody scoundrels, the pair of them…" Molly eventually shook her head clear. "I'll deal with them tomorrow…"

Daphne felt her lips pull themselves into a weak smile, holding onto the box of sweets as tightly as she could. Good people, all of them. It seems that gold can't buy kind hearts, no matter how much you have. She followed Molly up to Ron's room without making a sound, but just as the Weasley Matriarch was about to reach for the handle, Daphne reached forward and took her hand.

"Daphne?" Molly blinked.

"…It'll be booby-trapped…" she cringed internally; Ron's paranoia knew no bounds.

"I know, I had Bill clear his room of 'protections' just so I could clean it…" Molly sighed out. "My sons… Regular terrors, save for Bill and Percy…" She then opened the door, revealing Ron's bright orange room. "Go on, and if you need anything, don't hesitate to come to me."

"Thank you for your kindness-"

"Tsk, stop that," Molly patted her cheeks, her smile warm and full of love. "You're family, Daphne! And you can always count on your family!"

Daphne hugged her once again, and then, they bid each other goodnight before Daphne entered Ron's room alone. The moment she crossed the threshold, she felt truly safe, as if he were standing right beside her, a goofy grin spoiling his handsome face.

"Mistress?" came Spinny's voice, and Daphne turned to see her Elf now covered with a pink, fluffy sweater, but what truly caught Daphne's eyes was Helios, who sat perched on Spinny's little shoulder. "Mistress Ginevra asked Spinny to bring Helios with her." Did she, now? She's very thoughtful… Far more thoughtful than my own sister.

Daphne walked up to Spinny, kneeled down, and pulled her into a hug. "Thank you, Spinny… Thank you for putting me first…"

"Always, Mistress," Spinny hugged back, while Helios nipped at Daphne's earlobe. Ow!

"Tsk, Helios," Daphne pulled back, and the owl hopped onto her shoulder, his serious expression reminding her of his master. "It's good to see you too."

Helios headbutted her temple, but she didn't mind this time around, even letting out a weak laugh as she ruffled his feathers.

"That owl is evil, Mistress…" Spinny said superstitiously. "Spinny can see it in its eyes… It has a murderer's soul…"

"No, he's just a very serious soldier," Daphne smiled at him, and he hooted in response, even flexing his wings for her. "See, Spinny? He'll protect us."

"Or, devour our eyes in our sleep…" Spinny shuddered, backing away when his brilliant, yellow eyes turned in her direction. "Forgive Spinny, dark one!"

"Come, we've had enough excitement for one night…" Daphne stood up, taking Spinny's hand and leading her to the bed.

"Mistress, Spinny shall sleep on the floor-"

"No," Daphne whispered, smiling down at Spinny. "No, you'll sleep with me. This is our bed, now. At least, until Ron returns home."

"Sleep in a bed? With Mistress?" Spinny looked deeply bothered by the notion, but followed Daphne onto the bed regardless.

As Helios flew onto the head of the bed in order to keep his eyes on the door for intruders, Daphne offered Spinny one of the pillows before pulling the orange blanket over their bodies, both of them facing each other and holding hands. "Goodnight, Spinny."

"Goodnight, Mistress."


The Champion's POV

Sunday 28th March, 1994 (New York – Early Morning)

The Champion pulled back his left sleeve, placing the knife over his wrist and slashing it without hesitation. Pain shot up his entire arm, and he grinned from ear to ear, his eyes turning crimson and toad-like. Yes… Bleed, pig… Throwing the bloodied knife into the sink, the Champion stared at the blood oozing out of his latest wound, imagining the slashed throats of his enemies. We'll kill them all, and feast upon their souls!

"You're a fucking psychopath, have I told you that?" Ravenclaw Ron spoke from behind him, acting as a lookout. "Hurry the fuck up, before Dumbledore catches you and cuffs you over the ear."

"Silence," the Champion commanded, closing his eyes in order to focus.

Growling monstrously, the Champion raised his mangled, right hand, hovering it over his wound. He was making another attempt at China's oldest Healing Spell; the Golden Hand.

Imagining a blossoming lotus flower in the palm of his hand, its golden core hotter than anything he'd held before, the Champion commanded his Magic to heal him. Pins and needles ran up his entire right arm, and when the Champion opened his eyes, he saw that his hand was glowing golden. He wasted no time in placing it over his wound, feeling the pins and needles being transferred to his left arm, overwhelming the pain until there was none left.

"You're doing it!" Ravenclaw Ron threw his hands in the air, grinning maniacally. "You're fucking doing it, son!"

The Champion pulled his hand away, washing himself clean before looking back to his wrist. His dagger-sharp teeth clattering in excitement, the Champion saw that there was not even a mark left behind. At long last, he'd seen some results, and was more confident now that he could heal injuries even if his wands were parted from him. The power of both life and death in the palm Our hands!

His spine shifted and cracked, his rib cage creaking as he felt his organs move about freely inside him, whilst his monstrously long tongue escaped past his teeth and wrapped itself around his wrist, cleaning off any specks of blood left behind. Delicious… The blood of the unclean!

"Fucking hell…" Ravenclaw Ron shuddered in fear, only to look behind himself with lightning-fast speed. "Oh, shit! Krampus is coming!"

"Ron?" Snape called from behind him, and the Champion turned around to face him, an innocent smile on his very human face.

"Good morning, Sir," the Champion greeted pleasantly, fixing up his sleeve before turning the tap back on, washing any and all evidence away.

"Why are you up so early…?" Snape asked, narrowing his eye as he fixed up his eyepatch.

"I couldn't sleep," the Champion shrugged, noticing the haggard state Snape was in. "I take it you couldn't either?"

"…No…" Snape's eye drifted towards the sink. "You've had breakfast, I take it?"

"Oh, yes… I'm just washing up, now," the Champion 'smiled', making Ravenclaw Ron shudder once again. "You should wake up Artyom and the Headmaster. We've no time to lose."

Snape's eye then drifted towards open files laid out all across the living room floor, frowning deeply. "You were reading those all night? Again?"

"Yes, I was," the Champion admitted, murder flashing behind his eyes. "They give me strength."

"That's healthy…" Snape drawled, shaking his head. "I'll get them, it's best we get there before the students wake up."

Snape left at that, muttering something under his breath along the way.

"Put the knife back," Ravenclaw Ron instructed, but the Champion was already on it.

"Tell me of the tunnels you saw down there again," the Champion ordered, walking past his ghostly counterpart and stopping at the fireplace.

"Well, they weren't 'alive', like Harkin claims," Ravenclaw Ron replied. "But they run deep! Much deeper than I could explore! And those black crystals, mate…"

"Just like the ones we saw covering those worlds," the Champion clenched his fists, flashes of dead alien worlds flashing in his mind. "Dark Magic given solid form, you say?"

"That's my theory, but we'll know more once the old man gets his hands on them," Ravenclaw Ron replied. "Neither of them trusts me enough to listen, though. Especially Snape."

"I don't trust you."

"Ouch…"

"Trust is for idiots," the Champion sneered, preparing the floo. "Come, we'll go on ahead."

"You're in a hurry, aren't you?" Ravenclaw Ron floated over to him.

"Why wouldn't I be?" the Champion shot a dark smile back. "I get to spit in Voldemort's face today! It might as well be my birthday!"


Author's Notes: Damn, where is Millie? Has anyone seen her? Poor girl, she's probably knee deep in shit right now XD