AUTHOR'S NOTES: It'sa me, Mario! I mean, Spartan! Fuck!

I'm back again, here to supply you all with your latest hits!

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! (I'm never removing this)


Fate

Chapter 144 – Crime and Punishment

The Champion's POV

Sunday 28th March, 1994 (Ilvermorny – Early Morning)

"How's your arm?" Ravenclaw Ron asked, both of them staring at the wooden statue of the Horned Serpent.

"It's fine," the Champion replied, massaging his right forearm absentmindedly. I wish I'd used more Numbing Balm, but it is what it is… I can't afford to lose my wand hand, so I'll just have to endure a bit of pain from now on. Not that I don't deserve it… "You reckon the old man is right? About the Sages being Horned Serpents?"

"They can see the future, they can send visions, and they speak in Parseltongue… Yeah, I think he's right," Ravenclaw Ron started, sneering at the statue. "Be careful, mate. Horned Serpents are notoriously deceptive. They lie as easily as they breathe. It's one of the reasons why the Wizards of Old wiped them off the face of Europe. They trap others with their Prophecies, turning them into their puppets, and I've no doubt they'll try the same with you."

"I'm here to end the Curse on this mountain," the Champion said firmly. "And if I have to do that after laying waste to these Sages, then so be it."

"And Octavia? You think she'll let you harm them without putting up a fight?" Ravenclaw Ron asked, and the Champion drew in a sharp breath. "She's their pawn, whether she knows it or not. Dumbledore is right about her as well; we can't trust her." It's hard to argue with him when I've been burned so many times before… Trust is a luxury that I simply can't afford anymore.

"…I'll cross that bridge when I get there…" the Champion whispered, once again thinking of the playful Dryad. I need to get her out of my head… What's wrong with me?

"Stop being so pathetic," Ravenclaw Ron suddenly said, and the Champion frowned at him. "She showed you an ounce of kindness, and you're already head over heels for her? Have you entertained the possibility that she's playing you? That everything she's done for Tracey has been an elaborate plan to get inside your pretty little head?" Of course, I have…

"Whatever her reasoning, she still saved Tracey's life," the Champion said, feeling his stomach tighten into a knot. "But despite that, the mission comes first. If she gets in the way of that, then I'll deal with her as well. There… You happy now?"

Ravenclaw Ron nodded in approval, before abruptly vanishing from sight. The Champion stood in silence for many minutes before he heard footsteps emenating from the spiral staircase, at which point he turned to face whoever had interrupted the blessed silence.

"Good morning, Mr. Weasley," Harkin greeted him, his pallid skin and baggy eyes advertising his lack of sleep. "You are a man of your word, I see. It's not even seven yet."

"I figured you wouldn't approve of me mingling with your students," the Champion said, putting on a smile. "You look sick, Headmaster. Is everything all right?"

Harkin stopped in front of him, hesitating before speaking. "I have decided to join you, Mr. Weasley. The mountain is dangerous, and you will need my help."

"And what's brought about this change?" the Champion asked, curious. "Last time we spoke, you were adamant about not going back in there." He looks on edge… Terrified, even. What's hiding down there that's got him so spooked?

"Octavia…" Harkin started, frowning a little. "She wishes to join you, and as I am her guardian, it falls to me to keep her safe. No offence, Mr. Weasley, but I do not trust you."

"None taken, I don't trust you either," the Champion shrugged, while Harkin gave a nod. "I'm sure this will go faster with your help, however, so thank you." He cares about her deeply, despite his cold demeanour. Reminds me of a certain cunt Greengrass, actually.

"Shall we proceed, then?" Harkin asked, gesturing towards the exit. "Octavia is already waiting for us by the entrance, no doubt. She is very eager to end the Curse, and she's convinced that you're the man for the job." Merlin, it's going to be awkward running into her again… I left her so abruptly last time…

"In a moment," the Champion turned back to the Horned Serpent statue. "We're waiting on Headmaster Dumbledore, Professor Snape, and a friend of mine named Artyom. I promised them that I wouldn't start without them."

"Albus is joining us?" Harkin asked, his expression blank. "Why?"

"He is worried about you," the Champion answered, much to Harkin's displeasure. "And seeing you now, I don't blame him. Whatever these snakes have done to you, it's not right. Even I can see that." Harkin cocked an eyebrow at that, following the Champion's gaze towards the statue. "That's right, the old man figured it all out. You don't have to say anything, of course, but just know that we're on your side. These Sages are up to something, and if we don't like it, then the Curse isn't the only thing we'll put an end to."

"You'll destroy them?" Harkin asked, not a hint of emotion in his smooth voice. Why don't you sound upset about that? Clearly, you want us to do it.

"I only answer to one Being, and that's more than enough for me," the Champion simply answered. "If these Sages attempt to bind us to some Unbreakable Vow, then yes… I'll personally see to it that they meet a horrific end."

"Octavia will not allow it-"

"She will do as I command, or, she'll pay the price as well," the Champion looked back to Harkin, wrath lurking behind his eyes. "Same goes for you, Headmaster. Whatever is happening inside this mountain needs to come to an end, one way or another. Can I count on you when the time comes?"

Harkin stood perfectly still for a few moments, and then, he gave a subtle nod. "Let me worry about Octavia. Just be careful with the Sages, they are immensely powerful and beyond cunning. They are not like us, nor do they care for human morality. They cannot even begin to grasp the concept, I believe." That's going to be problem, then, isn't it?

"Why did you make the Vow, then?" the Champion had to ask. "It's obvious that you despise them, so why hand over your freedom willingly?"

"I did not see their true nature until it was too late…" Harkin whispered, averting his gaze from the statue. "They are not evil, Mr. Weasley, nor are they cruel… But they would sacrifice this entire country just to keep this mountain intact. To them, their home is all that matters. If I had known that they cared only for themselves and their survival, I would have broken the cycle." The Cycle… "Instead, I too have become a slave to it."

The Champion studied Harkin silently, not failing to notice the similarities between them. Both wizards were bound to serve the will of others, with neither of them being strong enough to break free. They were trapped between their duty and their desire to escape it, an inner conflict which, over time, had left them broken and bitter. Is this how I'll end up? A shell of a man? Damn, I feel as though I'm already there… I'm just so fucking tired…

"Maybe there's a reason why they need to keep the mountain intact," the Champion suggested, focusing on the statue again. "Sometimes, we think we know what's going on, but really, we are only seeing a fraction of the whole picture…" Whatever Fate has done to me, it has still allowed me to save others… It has given me a chance to save Fred. I can't abandon this path now, not after everything I've endured already.

"They have never explained their reasoning to me, nor any other wizard," Harkin said. "Perhaps you are right, or, perhaps you are wrong… I do not know their designs, nor do I wish to learn of them. It is too late for that, at least for me." You and me both, mate.

"Why don't you just leave?" the Champion asked. "Is that even possible?"

"It is…" Harkin replied, his mind was clearly somewhere else. "But if I leave, then another will be forced to take my place." He stays to spare others the burden? That's… admirable. "Your allies have arrived; I can feel them walking the hallways."

"You can feel them?" the Champion asked, turning towards the stairs. "How?"

"Sensory Wards," Harkin replied. Oh, I was expecting something more… exotic.

After a short period of silence, Dumbledore, Snape, and Artyom made their way into the Entrance Hall. They looked sharp, unlike Harkin, with Dumbledore leading the other two. Finally! What took them so long?

"Asmodeus," Dumbledore greeted, his friendly smile easing the Champion's nerves somewhat. "It is good to see you again, my old friend."

"I cannot say the same," Harkin said simply, turning and heading for the door. "Come. Let's get this over with." Is he angry with the Headmaster for some reason? He was quite chatty until the old man arrived.

Silently, they followed the Headmaster of Ilvermorny outside, before walking around the castle and heading for the Enchanted Forest behind it. The Champion, and his companions, were quick to notice the Pukwudgie eyes following them from inside the castle. A few were even roaming the grounds, all of them sneering at the Champion as soon as they saw him. He was not welcome here, that much was quite clear, not that it mattered to him in the slightest. As far as he was concerned, they were living on his planet, and he had the right to go wherever he pleased whenever he pleased.

"I brought you some breakfast, Ronald," Dumbledore suddenly said, reaching into his colourful satchel and retrieving a packed sandwich. "You can't skip the most important meal of the day, my boy. Especially on a day like this." Is that why you took so long to arrive? You were packing sandwiches?

"What's in it?" the Champion asked, he couldn't deny that he was peckish.

"Corned beef," Dumbledore smiled in response. Fuck me…

"Save it for later, Sir," the Champion said, the last thing he wanted was beef breath when they met up with Octavia.

"Are you sure?" Dumbledore asked, looking concerned now. "Ronald, you have been acting stranger than usual… You barely eat, you barely sleep… No one can keep going without sustenance-"

"The boy said he's not hungry," Snape cut in, frowning at Dumbledore. "Let him focus on the task at hand, Albus. You're not his mother."

"Ah, yes… I forget that I'm yours," Dumbledore chuckled, packing the sandwich away while Snape drew in a sharp breath. "I made sure to pack you chicken, Severus; I know you do not appreciate red meats early in the day. Artyom, what about you? Is beef something you enjoy?"

Artyom shot the Champion a bewildered look, while the Champion simply shrugged.

"Just answer him, mate," the Champion sighed out. "I find that it's easiest to just play along with him."

"That is true," Dumbledore laughed, his jolly mood undisturbed by the fact that they were walking into a Cursed Mountain. "Well, Artyom? Beef, or, chicken?"

"Beef," Artyom said, shaking his head. "Crazy old man."

"It's an act…" Harkin said from the front, not bothering to look back. "One that I find tiresome. Be silent, all of you. Or, you can find your own way." He's definitely angry with the Headmaster. Why, though? As far as I know, the Headmaster has always seen Harkin as a friend.

The Champion shot Dumbledore a subtle look, noticing the old man's eyes grow dimmer and his smile falter. Damn it… Fuck you, Harkin, you miserable cunt.

"Actually, I'll have that sandwich, Sir," the Champion spoke up, unable to see Dumbledore upset or hurt. "You're right, I shouldn't skip breakfast."

"I knew you'd see sense, dear boy," Dumbledore perked up again, pulling out the sandwich and handing it over. "Give me the wrapping once you're done. We shouldn't litter." Yes, mum…

"Cheers…" Fucking beef breath, here I come.


Thirty Minutes Later

"How much further, Harkin?" Snape demanded; he was beginning to fall behind. "Curse this never-ending forest…"

"Did someone place an Extension Charm on this forest, Sir?" the Champion asked Dumbledore, who continued staring at Harkin's back. "Headmaster?"

"Sorry, Ronald, what were you asking?" Dumbledore broke out of his thoughts, shooting the Champion a soft smile. He's worrying again.

"Is there an Extension Charm placed upon this forest?"

"Oh, no… No, this is something else entirely," Dumbledore mused, stroking his beard. "This is Old Magic, and I fear even I don't have the answers you seek. What about you, Asmodeus? Do you know who Enchanted this forest?"

Harkin didn't respond, continuing on in complete silence. Once again, the Champion and Dumbledore exchanged looks, but neither said anything. His demeanour changed when the Headmaster arrived. Maybe he still has a soft spot for children, but not adults? Or, maybe, he's holding onto some grudge that the Headmaster is unaware of? Either way, his silence is getting irritating.

"There," Harkin suddenly stopped, pointing towards a marble mausoleum hidden behind tall trees. "We've arrived."

"How fitting," Snape muttered, coming to a stop behind the Champion. "If we die, there won't be any need to bury us."

The Champion snickered; he couldn't have agreed more. Following after Harkin once again, they approached the gloomy mausoleum with equal anticipation and trepidation. Whatever secrets were buried beneath would soon be uncovered, and if Harkin was to be believed, these secrets were the sort best left undiscovered. Where is Octavia? Did I cast the Fresh-Breath Charm right? Of course, I did… It's a basic Charm. Get a fucking grip.

Harkin drew his wand and waved it at the black, iron door, which slowly creaked open. Hundreds of tiny Bluebell Flames, like little fireflies, rushed through the opening, circling them and blocking their view of the mausoleum. They grew so bright that all of them were forced to cover their eyes. Through the bright torrent of blue flames, the Champion managed to glimpse the shadowy shape of a tall, willowy woman standing in the doorway, but just as he blinked, the shadow was gone, replaced by the shorter frame of Octavia.

"Enough!" Snape hissed, and with a powerful wave of his right arm, he banished the flames entirely.

"Thank you, Severus," Dumbledore commended, taking a step forward.

"Octavia? What are you doing inside Isolt's Tomb?" Harkin demanded before Dumbledore could continue. "You were to wait outside, just as we discussed."

"I wanted to pay my respects to an old friend before we began our long journey," Octavia replied with a happy smile, her eyes already focused on the Champion. "You've kept your word, Champion. I thank you from the bottom of my heart." Right…

"It's nothing, really…" the Champion smiled awkwardly, clearing his throat. "Octavia, these are my friends. Albus Dumbledore, Severus Snape, and Artyom of Russia. They're here to help you as well."

"Such a fine collection of heroes," Octavia beamed, looking to Dumbledore and bowing her head in respect. "I know of you, Headmaster. Your legend precedes you."

"Oh? Thank you," Dumbledore laughed, nudging the Champion. "She is as beautiful as you described, my boy!" What the fuck?! I never described her to you! Why would you do this?!

Octavia turned her growing smile back to the Champion, who was now glaring murder at Dumbledore. You fucking tosser… You embarrassed me on purpose! Harkin also shot a look back, eyeing the Champion as a father would eye a potential suiter for his daughter; with a mixture of disdain and wariness. It's not like that! Don't listen to this old bastard! He's a liar!

"I will admit that I also find the Champion's form most pleasing," Octavia admitted shamelessly, causing the Champion's ears to go red. I… don't know what to say now… I'll just stay quiet, I reckon. "William, you may come out, now. We're ready to begin." William is here?

Hearing light footsteps behind them, they turned to see the old Pukwudgie step out from behind a tree. He was wearing an ill-fitting armour made of ebony wood and animal hides, as well as carrying an old, cracked bow by his side. Despite looking uncomfortable due to his aged attire, there was a certain strength about him that the Champion hadn't felt before.

"About time…" William growled, giving the Champion a nod. "I was beginning to think that you wouldn't show."

"I gave you my word, didn't I?" the Champion reminded him, smirking.

"The words of wizards are often nothing but lies," William huffed, making his way over to the group. Okay, then…

"It's good to see you too," the Champion sighed out. I'm surrounded by mean, old twats.

"And who are you, giant?" William looked to Artyom, who merely cocked an eyebrow. "A dangerous beast, no doubt. One worthy of being hunted." Seriously? It'd be the last hunt of your life, old man. Artyom is not someone to be fucked with, believe me.

"William," Octavia called out, shaking her head lightly when he looked to her.

"…Apologies…" William deflated a bit. "…Old habits."

"Octavia, stay behind me at all times," Harkin ordered, having grown bored of the pleasantries. "And behave yourself. Am I understood?"

"Yes, of course," Octavia smiled innocently at him, while he rolled his eyes and marched into the mausoleum.

One by one, they packed themselves inside, only to discover that the mausoleum too was much larger inside than its outward appearance. It was mostly empty, however, save for five grey sarcophaguses which rested dead in the centre, each of them surrounded by Mayflowers. They must belong to Isolt and her family. Wait… There's only five… Didn't Isolt have two sons and two daughters?

"Shouldn't there be six?" the Champion asked Harkin, who ignored him. "Oi, I'm talking to you, cun-…" he stopped, looking to Octavia, who tilted her head in confusion. I should mind my language near her. It's not proper, is it?

"Ahem," Dumbledore cleared his throat, shooting the Champion a disappointed look. "Asmodeus, this silence of yours is beginning to vex us. We're here to help you, the least you can do is answer our questions."

Once again, the skeletal man ignored them, waving his wand at Isolt's sarcophagus and muttering some incantation under his breath. The Champion drew in a calming breath, deciding to move past the man's rude behaviour for Octavia's sake. If she weren't here, though… I'd beat this miserable cunt for daring to ignore me.

"Martha Steward, Isolt's elder daughter, left Ilvermorny in her youth," Octavia answered for Harkin, looking between him and the others. "She never returned, and as such, she was not buried with her family."

"She despised them, and would not want it any other way," William added. "She was a hateful and vile girl… But what else can be expected of Squib children? They are born wrong, entirely unnatural." What the fuck did he just say?!

"Pardon me?" the Champion looked to William, his eyes flashing red.

William immediately took a step back, as did Octavia; both of them going wide-eyed. I'll feed you your own tongue, motherfucker.

"Ronald," Dumbledore whispered, giving him a meaningful look. "Control your anger, my boy. We are here to help, not hinder." But he-… Fine…

"I have friends who are Squibs," the Champion warned. "Don't insult them near me again. You won't get a second warning." Fucking bigot.

"A thousand apologies, Champion," Octavia apologized for William, who recovered from his shock and scoffed. "William speaks his mind, always, even when he ought to show more respect. He is not wrong about Martha, however. She was a mean-spirited girl, and she hurt her family at every turn, especially her mother."

"Yes, her mother who chose to raise her amongst Magical-Folk, surrounded by wonders she could never be a part of," Harkin finally broke his silence as Isolt's sarcophagus slid back, revealing a stairway which led into the darkness below. "No one is born bitter and hateful, Octavia; these traits are learned through disappointment and heartbreak…"

"Speaking from experience, are you?" Snape asked, and Harkin shot a cold look back.

"You would know, wouldn't you, Potions Master? Why else would you willingly follow a monster like He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?" Ouch… He got you there, Sir. "Octavia, come. We will lead the way forward together. As for the rest of you, keep your guards up. The mountain will fight back, and it will use our worst memories and deepest fears against us. Don't get left behind, or, you'll never see the sun again."


Daphne Greengrass' POV

Sunday 28th March, 1994 (The Burrow – Early Morning)

"That's the last one," Daphne smiled as she placed the egg in the basket, wiping her brow. "I'd better get going before Balthazar arrives."

Exiting the chicken coop, Daphne once again found herself facing the beady-eyed Balthazar, as if he'd been waiting to ambush her. Not you again! Well, you're not chasing me around this time. I've come prepared. Daphne pulled out her wand with her spare hand, and just as Balthazar charged towards her, she aimed the wand right at him.

"Immobulus," Daphne chanted, and the angry rooster was stopped in his tracks.

In slow-motion, Balthazar began spreading his wings, but Daphne merely smirked as she walked right past him, entering the Burrow and closing the door behind her. The Charm ought to wear off in a couple of minutes, so I hope Mrs. Weasley won't mind too much.

"Mrs. Weasley, I have the eggs," Daphne entered the kitchen, stopping short when she saw her mother sitting on the dining table. "Mother… What are you doing here?" He must've sent her… Is she here to bring me back? Well, I'm not going anywhere with her!

"I wanted to see you," Mary smiled, rising out of her chair. "We need to talk, Daphne."

"I don't think we do," Daphne huffed, still disgusted with her parents. Murderers… That's what they truly are.

She walked past her mother and stopped by Mrs. Weasley's side, planting the basket of eggs on the counter. Mrs. Weasley smiled and patted her cheek, but oddly enough, she remained silent. Don't tell me that she wants me to-… Ugh…

"Daphne, please," Mary sighed out. "I don't want us to make a scene here, especially not so early in the morning. You need to hear what I have to say. It will give you… perspective…" Perspective over what? How you and father are willing to murder for gold? Why you love Astoria so much more than me? Why I'm always left holding the short-straw?

Daphne looked to Mrs. Weasley for help, but she had already returned to preparing breakfast for her family. Where is Spinny? Something doesn't feel right here…

"Where is Spinny?" Daphne turned to face her mother.

"I ordered her to return to the manor," Mary replied, much to Daphne's horror.

"Why?! Father will have her punished-" Daphne started, outraged.

"He won't," Mary cut in, but Daphne didn't believe her. "Daphne… I've never lied to you, have I? He is currently passing Spinny's ownership to you. From today on, she will only answer to you. We will have no power over her free-will." What…?

"Why would he do that?" Daphne asked suspiciously.

"Because he saw her protect his daughter at all costs," Mary answered, gesturing towards the back door. "Please, just come sit with me. I have so much to tell you, and after I'm done, I will leave. I've already spoken to Molly, and she's happy to let you stay for as long as you desire."

"I am," Molly finally spoke up, shooting Daphne a meaningful look. "Daphne, dear… No one in this world wants what's best for you more than your parents. I don't know why you're fighting, but I know that this is no way for a family to behave. Go on. I'll be right here if you need me."

Knowing that she had no other choice, aside from disrespecting both women and storming off, Daphne decided to comply. Giving her mother a nod, Daphne led the way outside, both of them finding a worn-out bench overlooking the garden.

"Thank you, Daphne," Mary started as she sat down, but stopped when Daphne slid to the furthest end of the bench.

"You're a murderer…" Daphne whispered, refusing to even look at Mary. "You and father both. I don't even know what to think, let alone say. Father told me that he was proud of his actions… That he was 'glad' he killed their children-"

"Your father was a different man, then," Mary sighed out, shaking her head. "I wish he hadn't told you-"

"I bet," Daphne interrupted, and Mary sighed once again.

"What your father did… It was cruel and unjust," Mary continued, looking ahead as well. "When I first learned of his actions, I was… horrified…" Daphne looked to her mother at that. "It's true… How could I not be? After the war, I was in pieces… And I was so fixated on what had happened to me, that I never realised how damaged Sebastian had become. How unhinged. The Dark Lord… He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named…"

Mary stopped, her eyes widening at nothing in particular and her hands trembling as they dug into her fine dress. Mother…? Daphne continued staring in silence, she'd never seen the Greengrass matriarch look so shaken before.

"He broke your father…" Mary finally murmured, ending the excruciating silence. "When he first came for our family, his Death-Eaters murdered your father's beloved mother and all of our staff… Tore them apart right in front of me… I was certain that we were next, but instead, the Dark Lord had something worse in mind… He… He tortured me right beside your crib… We both screamed and screamed, but he just kept laughing… As if it were all a game to him… As if he were pulling the wings off of a fly…" Circe have mercy…

"Mother…" Daphne muttered; her blood had frozen in her veins.

"When he was done with me, when my body had given out, he left you, a baby, wrapped in a flag baring his Dark Mark…" Mary went on, as if in a trance. "That's how your father found you… Crying and covered in your family's blood… In my blood… Your father surrendered himself to the Dark Lord after that, hoping to save our lives by giving up his own…"

Daphne was left reeling, unable to even imagine the horrors her mother and father had endured just to keep her safe. Amongst all of the emotions she felt, guilt was perhaps the strongest one. Her problems, her insecurities, they felt so small when compared to the pain her parents had endured.

"What happened after?" Daphne asked, swallowing thickly. Do I even want to know?

"Living amongst those monsters… It changed Sebastian for the worst," Mary looked down at her lap, sniffling. "The man he became by the end of the war, Daphne… That man would terrify you, just as he terrified me… Your father was always a cold man, but the Dark Lord had turned him cruel…"

"Why didn't you leave?" Daphne asked without thinking, hanging off of every word.

"Because I loved him, and I could not abandon him at his lowest," Mary turned to Daphne, smiling weakly and her eyes brimming with tears. "And his indifference was never aimed towards me and you… No, he loved us still, and would do anything to keep us safe. While I was in captivity, it was your father who took care of you. He spent every waking moment trying to protect you, and for a long time after the war, I'd often find him sleeping with you in his arms… No, I could never leave him… He was in so much pain, but he kept our family together. Without him, without his strength, I'd still be…" she trailed off, looking away again. "I love him more now than I ever have, even if his cold nature angers me sometimes…"

"Is… Is that why you're all right with him killing those poor Centaurs?" Daphne asked, tensing up. "Mother… What the Dark Lord did to father… It doesn't excuse his actions… He inflicted the very same pain onto those Centaurs…"

"I know," Mary looked back to Daphne, smiling more fully. "And I am so proud of you for understanding that, Daphne. So proud! You are better than your father and me, you always have been. Cruelty only begets more cruelty, and you are wiser than your father and I for understanding that at such a young age."

Daphne couldn't deny that it felt good to hear those words, especially given her recent behaviour. I was so rude to her… Nasty, even… And all of it was just to make myself feel big…

"I'm sorry, mother," Daphne apologized, feeling truly ashamed of herself. "I disrespected you-"

"I've already forgiven you, my love," Mary stopped her, reaching across and taking Daphne's hands in hers. "I was your age once, and I remember how defiant I was. Your father understands too, but he… Well, he's a proud man, and you hurt me deeply." Daphne averted her gaze at that, still ashamed. "I've spoken to him, however, and he is also sorry. He spoke to you in anger, and he wants nothing more than to make it up to you." Really…?

"Then…" Daphne looked back up, drawing in a deep breath. "Please, mother, ask him not to hurt those Centaurs… I beg you, please! Don't let him hurt them again!" You just said that cruelty only begets more cruelty. You can't let him do this!

Mary blinked, and then, she tightened her hold on Daphne's hands. "He wishes to atone to them, Daphne, not hurt them." What…? "Your father is no longer proud of the man he used to be, the man who put our family on the top of the world at the cost of his humanity. It has taken nearly thirteen years, but your father is finally beginning to recover his soul… You, me, Astoria, and Ron… All he wants now is for his family to be proud of him, which is why he is searching for the Centaurs he wronged. I'm just sorry that it took breaking Ron's heart for him to fully realize his wrongdoings… I failed your father by not doing more, and for that, I am just as guilty as he is…"

"Does Ron know that father wishes to make amends?" Daphne asked, despite knowing that Ron wouldn't care. He doesn't forgive, and he never forgets. It won't be any different this time.

"Even if he did, he will not forgive your father…" Mary looked down at their joined hands. "I love that boy, but…" she trailed off.

"But he frightens you? Just as father used to?" Daphne whispered, shooting a look towards the back entrance. He frightens me too… Especially lately… Every time I see him, he's just so angry… And when he's not angry, he's cold and distant.

Mary simply nodded, squeezing Daphne's hands. They sat in a comfortable silence for a long time, giving Daphne time to revaluate her thoughts on her family. Yes, she still felt like she was underappreciated by them, that her father had lost all interest in her the day Ron, the son he always wanted, had walked into their lives, but after hearing her mother's tale, she couldn't bring herself to think that she was unloved. I'm still not ready to go home, though… Is that wrong?

"Can I stay for a few more days, mother?" Daphne asked, and Mary smiled lovingly at her.

"Of course," Mary replied, and Daphne smiled back. "Your father and I love you, Daphne, and that'll never change."

"I know," Daphne said, feeling certain of it now. "…How's Astoria? Has she asked about me?"

"Constantly," Mary chuckled, wiping the tears from her eyes before taking Daphne's hands in hers again. "I know it doesn't always feel like it, but she wants to be just like you."

"Are you sure?" Daphne asked, feeling oddly happy at the thought.

"Yes, I'm sure," Mary promised. "Do you have any other questions?" I have one, but I'm not sure if I want it answered…

"Do… Do you love her more than me…?" Daphne asked apprehensively, losing her smile. "It's okay if you do… I'd just like to know, that's all…"

Mary paused, looking taken aback. "No, Daphne… I would tear this world apart if anyone tried to take my daughters away from me, as would your father. We are softer on Astoria because…" she stopped, swallowing thickly. "Daphne, your sister is not well, and I think you already know that… I… We just want to cherish every moment we have with her, and I'm sorry for making you feel as though we hold her closer to our hearts… That was never our intent, because it's simply not true."

Daphne felt her stomach sink to her feet, what was her mother implying? Cherish every moment they have with her? What is she trying to tell me?

"…W-what's that supposed to mean…?" Daphne murmured. "What are you trying to say, mother?"

"It's best that your father explains this, he knows more about it than I do," Mary aged a decade, she was not ready for this conversation. "What I do know, however, is that Tori won't live as long as the rest of us, and just thinking about it breaks my heart…"

Daphne's eyes widened, and she found herself holding her breath without intending it. Tori won't live as long as the rest of us… No… No, no, no, no! Not her too! This can't be true!

"What's wrong with her?" Daphne heard herself ask. "Is… Is she sick like Ron…?"

"No, not exactly," Mary replied, clearly uncomfortable now. "Your father's family was Cursed a long time ago, and that Curse has manifested itself in Tori. The Healers told us that she wouldn't live long after her birth, but she's proven them wrong so far… Even still, she's weaker than most children… Smaller… Every time she sets foot outside our home, I worry about her… I think that's why I was so hard on you whenever you two fought as children. I wanted you to take care of her, just as your father and I do, but I never realized that I was hurting you-"

"I don't care about me, tell me more about this Curse," Daphne blurted out, scooting closer. "Who cast it? And when?!" I can't believe this… Does Tori know?

"It was a Hag… Your father's family burned her at the stake, and amidst her screams, she cast a Curse upon their lineage," Mary answered, causing the blood to drain from Daphne's face. A Hag did this…? "This was centuries ago, but the Curse has persisted… Every Greengrass since has tried to lift it, but to no avail. It is Old Magic, and none, not even the world's most proficient Curse Breakers, have been able to put an end to it."

"Tori is Cursed…" Daphne just sat there, feeling as though her mother had smashed a rock over her head.

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 protect her sister at all costs. I can't let anything happen to her… I have to protect her, no matter what. After Ron, after Trace… No, I won't let anything harm my sister!

"…Does Tori know any of this…?" Daphne asked, her eyes stinging painfully. "How could you not tell me? If I had known, I… You should have told me!"

"We wanted to spare you that burden, but now, I can see that we were protecting only ourselves," Mary averted her gaze. "And no, Tori doesn't know anything… We're afraid that if we tell her, it'll only worsen her condition, and as such…" Mary looked back into Daphne's eyes. "You must never tell her, Daphne. Ever. One day, your father and I will explain everything to her, but not yet. She hasn't matured enough yet to understand, and we don't want to frighten her. It could hurt her already frail health, do you understand?"

"…I understand…" Daphne managed, her hands shaking. "I can't believe-… This is horrible… A-am I Cursed too…?"

"…Yes…" Mary gave a weak nod, pulling her distraught daughter into her side. "You carry the Curse, just as your father does, but unlike Tori, it doesn't weaken you. However…" Mary drew in a sharp breath, sniffling again. "However, you can never have more than one child, Daphne. If you do, then that child will be taken from you by the Curse. And if you decide to adopt a second child into your family, rather than birth one, then that child too will become Cursed. The Hag… She made sure that no one named Greengrass would escape her vengeance, and so far, none have. The only way to end this Curse is for you and your sister to abandon the Greengrass name altogether, and allow it to die with your father and I, but even then, you two will remain Cursed, though your children will be spared."

Feeling lightheaded, Daphne let her head drop onto her mother's shoulder, staring at the Weasley garden with glazed eyes. …I don't know what to say… I don't feel as though I'm Cursed, but mother wouldn't lie about something like this. Never. And Tori… She annoys me sometimes, but I can't imagine my life without her in it. I don't even want to try-…

"Daphne?"

"…Sorry… I'm just…" Daphne mumbled, staring at thin air. I can only have one child? And if I don't abandon the Greengrass name, then my child will suffer the same? This is cruel… Whatever my ancestors' crimes, why are Tori and I being forced to pay for them? That Hag… She must've been pure evil to do this!

"I'm sorry, my love," Mary apologized, and Daphne tightened her hold on her mother's hands.

"…Not your fault, mother…" Daphne managed, thinking of her sister. "…I'm going to get my belongings… I want to come back home."

"Are you sure?" Mary asked, and Daphne gave a weak nod.

"I want to spend more time with Tori…" While I still have a chance…


Some Time Later

Daphne had left the Weasleys just as abruptly as she had joined them, not that they seemed to mind, as Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had asked her to drop by for another visit whenever she pleased. Now, Daphne found herself back within her overly large manor, standing at the doorway of the grand dining room. Her eyes were already fixed on Tori, who was sitting in their father's chair, pretending to be the Head of the Cursed Greengrass Family. She really is so small, isn't she? I wasn't that small when I was eleven-…

"Daphne! You're back!" Tori rushed out of their father's chair, running over and attaching herself to Daphne's midsection. "What happened between you and father?! Did you two have a fight?! Hold on… Ugh! Merlin, I can't even hug you properly because of your huge tits!"

"Astoria Greengrass!" Mary scolded from the back, no doubt looking scandalised. "You mind what comes out of your mouth, young Lady!"

Daphne stared down at the delicate face of her younger sister, always so animated and full of mischief, and she felt her heart twist painfully. She was so conflicted in this moment, feeling both grateful and hateful towards her mother for sharing the truth with her. It could be ten years from now, or, ten weeks… And we have no way of knowing-…

"Daphne? Why are you staring at me like that?" Tori narrowed her eyes, letting go.

"Don't," Daphne blurted out, grabbing her sister's shoulders and pulling her closer. "Don't let go, please."

"Oi! What are you doing?!" Tori whined, pulling her head out of Daphne's bosom. "Mother! Daphne's being a freak!"

"Don't say 'Oi', Astoria," Mary sighed out, approaching them. "Daphne, let go of your sister."

"I'm sorry," Daphne regained some of her composure, though she planned to hug Tori to her heart's content later. "I just missed you, that's all."

"Uh-huh," Tori didn't seem to buy it, looking between Daphne and Mary. "Why is everyone being so weird lately?"

"Why were you sitting in your father's chair?" Mary asked in response, and Tori grinned.

"I was pretending to be father, obviously," Tori admitted shamelessly, before mimicking Sebastian Greengrass' cold stare. "Go get me a brandy, woman."

"Astoria!" Mary looked appalled, whereas Daphne laughed despite her heartbreak. "You wait until your father comes home!"

"Where is father?" Tori asked immediately, looking quite pleased with herself for making Daphne laugh. "And where did Daphne go? Was she with Tracey? Were you with Tracey, Daphne? Did you seriously go without me?"

"No, I was with the Weasleys," Daphne replied, unable to stop herself from taking her sister's hand in hers. "But I came back because mother told me that you missed me dearly."

"Why do you keep touching me?" Tori asked, baffled. "Also, I didn't miss you that much… I was just wondering where you went. Like I said, everyone's acting really weird lately. Father is fighting with Ron, and then, he yelled at you-"

"I was out of line with mother," Daphne stopped Tori, squeezing her hand. Her arms are so thin and frail-looking… I can't believe I never worried about her being underweight before. "We've made up, though, and once father comes home, I will apologize to him as well."

"That sounds brilliant!" Tori smiled, looking down at their joined hands. "Can you stop touching me, please, you weirdo?" Right…

"…Sorry," Daphne apologized again, letting go reluctantly.

"Don't call your older sister a 'weirdo', you hooligan," Mary admonished, gesturing her daughters to take their seats on the table. "Come, let's eat while we wait for your father. I want us to sit together in the gardens, today, and if you behave yourself, Astoria, we'll take you two out for some shopping and ice-cream."

"You want us to spend all day with you?" Tori complained, expecting Daphne to do the same, but was shocked to see her sister nod her head in agreement. "What about Tracey, Daphne?!"

"Tracey… She needs some time alone with her parents too," Daphne decided, nudging Tori towards the table. "We can buy her gifts and deliver them to her tomorrow. What do you think?"

"…I don't want to sit in the gardens all day…" Tori groaned, dragging her feet. "It's colder than Santa's bollocks out there!" Ron, is that you in there?

Mary stopped, drew in a deep breath, and then hung her head in resignation. "This is all his fault… He's been teaching my daughters his filth at Hogwarts, and I'm powerless to stop him…" Well, they do say that acceptance is the first step.

The moment they were all seated, the door swung open again, and Sebastian Greengrass marched in with Spinny at his heels. Daphne promptly rose out of her chair, waiting for her father to notice her. He looks busy, as if our fight never even happened.

"…And don't be afraid to raise your voice a little if she orders you to do something foolish," her father was lecturing Spinny, who was nodding along eagerly. "Don't forget your own experiences, am I clear?"

"Yes, Master," Spinny answered excitedly.

"I'm not your Master, anymore, Spinny-…"

"Sebastian," Mary called, and he finally took notice of his family, stopping in place when he saw Daphne.

Neither of them said anything, but they were both relieved to see each other safe and sound. I called him a Death-Eater, but he only became one to protect his family. He suffered at the hands of the Dark Lord himself just to keep me safe, and I threw that in his face.

Silently, Sebastian walked over and took his place, sitting down and gesturing Daphne to do the same. There was a moment of silence before Daphne decided to speak, planning to keep her apology short and to the point.

"I am sorry, father," she started, his cold gaze sending a shiver up her spine. "I was wrong to eavesdrop on you, and I was cruel to accuse you of being a… heartless man. Will you forgive me?"

"I have already done so, daughter," he said indifferently, shooting a quick glance towards his glaring wife. "…And I am sorry as well… I spoke to you in anger. That was wrong. You are no longer a child, Daphne, and you will be afforded the respect that comes with your age from now on. You have my word." Wow… What did mother do to you after I left?

"I missed all of this delicious drama?" Tori spoke up, looking between Sebastian and Daphne. "What a shame… I always miss out on the fun!"

"Were you sitting in my chair, again?" Sebastian asked, shifting a little.

"Daphne, can you pass the fruit salad, please?" Tori quickly changed the subject, smiling innocently at their father.

"You can have the fruit salad after you have a proper meal," Sebastian ordered, ignoring Tori's groans of displeasure. "I want to see eggs and toast on your plate, Astoria. You may enjoy as much fruit as you like afterwards."

"Give me your plate, Tori," Daphne volunteered, much to Tori and Sebastian's surprise. "Don't worry, father, I'll make sure she eats properly."

Sebastian gave a slow, but grateful, nod, while Mary shot Daphne a proud smile. I promise that I'll look after her from now on. I'll protect her, just as you protected me.

"Kiss-arse," Tori accused, poking her tongue out at Daphne. …I'm going to have to get used to being insulted regularly, aren't I?


Millicent Bulstrode's POV

Sunday 28th March, 1994 (Bulstrode Manor – Morning)

Millicent came to an abrupt stop, wiping the sweat from her brow as she shot a look back. Those two… They're always following me, reporting my movements to my parents. No matter where I go, they're there. Just watching me.

More and more, she was beginning to feel like a prisoner in her own home. Her parents no longer trusted her enough to let her go where she pleased, even keeping her away from her friends. She wasn't allowed to send or receive any letters, nor was she allowed to visit Tracey, who had, thank Merlin, finally awoken from her coma. If it was just dad, I could convince him to let me visit her, but mum… Mum won't let me go, no matter what.

Frowning to herself, Millicent started running again, having come to the decision to become powerful enough to defy them. She couldn't expect Ron to keep watching out for her, despite him telling her otherwise. It felt wrong to keep relying on him, as he already had so many burdens to carry, not to mention the shame she felt whenever he was near her. He'd always treated her fairly, even giving her the confidence to believe in herself, a feat not even her doting parents had managed. And I repaid him by starting the events which eventually led to that sham trial. He was humiliated internationally, and all because he chose to look out for me… I'm a piece of shit, just like my 'Great and Noble' parents…

"Millicent! Pumpkin!" her father's voice rang out, and she turned to see him walking over to her.

He was smiling, as if nothing were wrong, and the mere sight of him made Millicent's heart break. She still loved her mother and father, of course, but now she saw them for what they truly were. Death-Eaters… Hiding in plain sight. He told me that he won't go after the Werewolves anymore, but I don't believe him. I can't trust a single word they say to me from now on.

"Good morning, dad," Millicent greeted half-heartedly. "Is it something important? I'm in the middle of my run."

"I can see that, pumpkin," his smiled wavered as he came to a stop. "Maybe I should start joining you? Not enough people realize how important discipline and exercise are, and I've certainly been taking it easy for years." He patted his gut and let out a laugh, but stopped when his daughter didn't join him. "You're still upset with me, then, I see…"

"You took my wand from me," Millicent reminded him, unable to help how bitter she sounded. "My wand! I haven't practiced my Spells for nearly a week!" You might as well have severed my hand! What's a witch without her wand?

"I know…" Robert sighed out, his shoulders sagging. "I've spoken to your mother about it, but she's convinced that you'll use it to run away." Oh, I will! "I told her that you wouldn't do that, but you know how she gets when she's worried… And yes, she's just worried about you, love, and so am I."

"You're worried that I'm going to tell the world about who you two really are," Millicent accused, still feeling guilty when she saw how deeply her words cut her father. "I… I want to say that I'm sorry, but… How can you do this to innocent people, dad? You and mother both?!"

"They're not so innocent, and by keeping them off the streets, I make sure that my daughter and others like her are kept safe," Robert answered, drawing in a sharp breath. "Do you know what their Curse truly is, Millicent? It's not the fact that they lose all control over themselves whenever there's a full-moon… It's not even the fact that they'll kill their own children without a moment's hesitation. No, it's something far worse… A Werewolf, in its bestial form, has only a singular instinct: to spread their Curse. It's a living disease, one that has destroyed far more families than I ever could-"

"They can't control themselves," Millicent argued, but her father scoffed, having lost his patience. "They need our help-"

"We should let them run free? Is that it?!" Robert demanded, his harsh tone silencing her. "Your friend, that Blood-Traitor bastard… He's filled your head with nonsense, Millicent. His lot have always gone about putting our kind in danger, and he's the worst of them. I'm warning you now, get his foolish notions out of your head before it's too late. He is out to destroy our very way of life, and he's using you and others like you to do it!"

"You're acting as though he's some mastermind, manipulating everything around you in order to target solely you!" Millicent couldn't believe what she was hearing, had they truly lost their minds? "He just wants to help people, dad, and he's actually doing it! How can you stand there and justify your crimes when his sanctuary for the Werewolves is proof that there's a better way?! No matter how you look at it, you're in the wrong! If you can't understand that, then you're even worse than the Werewolves you so fear! At least they have the excuse of losing control over their better natures, their humanity, what's your excuse?!"

A terrible silence fell between them, both of them staring at each other as if the other were unrecognisable. I really thought that you and mum were different from the Dark Lord's other lackeys, but you're not… He never forced you to join him, you did so willingly! You're all just bullies punching down, and I'll have no part in that! Not even for your sake!

"My crimes…" Robert sighed out, shaking his head in disbelief, before adorning a dark expression. "You don't know me, daughter, but now, you will learn. I should've raised you the way I was raised… The proper way! Instead, I spoiled you with love and kept you far from hardship. My friend, Corban, is truly a wiser man than myself… He said that losing the war made us weak, it made us soft, and only now do I realize that he was talking directly to me. I am the reason why you've turned out so weak!" Millicent swallowed thickly, had she pushed the man too far? "After everything your mother and I have done for you, after everything we've given you, you stand there and mock our beliefs? You call us criminals, all the while praising a Blood-Traitor?"

"…I don't care about his Blood-Status…" Millicent spoke up, pushing past the fear of disappointing her father. "I care about him, because he cares about me. He… He's kind to me, and he's kind to others… That's what I care about." She drew in a deep breath, knowing that she was about to damage her relationship with her father forever. "I want to be like him, dad… Not you…"

Robert's eyes welled up, but his expression remained stern. The sight hurt her more than she could've imagined, but before she could utter another word, he merely nodded to himself in silence before turning to leave. Dad…?

"You will not return to Hogwarts," he promised her, causing her heart to stop beating. "I will send an owl to my old acquaintance, Igor Karkaroff, the Headmaster of Durmstrang, and we will have you transferred under his care-"

"You can't do that-!"

"Silence!" he barked, making her flinch and shrink away. "You will do as your father commands! There will be no more arguments between us! Durmstrang will set you straight! They will teach you to honour your family, rather than honour some Blood-Traitor dog! You will never speak to Ronald Weasley again, not while I draw breath!" No… No!

"You can't do this to me!" she cried, chasing after him. "Dad, please! You can't separate me from my friends-!"

"I can, and I will!" Robert shot a murderous look back, freezing her in place. "And I'm not doing this to you, I'm doing this for you! I am sparing you from their weakness! You are a Bulstrode! For centuries, our hallowed family has fought and sacrificed to bring about the Pure-World, and I'll be damned if my own daughter shirks from that responsibility! I'll be damned before I allow a Blood-Traitor to corrupt my legacy! It's time you grew up, girl! It's time you learned to earn your keep!"


The Champion's POV

?

They'd been marching down for hours, following the Bluebell Flames which lit their path forward, heading deeper and deeper into the Earth with each step, and yet, for some ungodly reason, they were making no progress whatsoever. Time and time again, the Champion got the feeling that they were moving in circles, trudging through the same narrow, damp passageways they'd already passed through.

The mountain was indeed alive, and it was fucking with them.

"Is anyone else getting a headache?" the Champion broke the silence, feeling a dull ache in the back of his head.

"Do you need to stop, dear boy?" Dumbledore asked, shooting a concerned look back.

"No… I just…" the Champion massaged the back of his neck. "No, I'm fine. Sorry. Let's just keep moving." I've felt this kind of pain before… It occurs whenever someone's trying to get into my head.

"Asmodeus, can we pause for a moment?" Dumbledore asked, and the skeletal man shot a frown back. "Forgive me, but my old bones are beginning to ache." Bloody hell, I should've kept my mouth shut… Now, I'm slowing everyone down-…

"We've been through here before," Snape whispered to himself, staring at the wall to his right.

"You're getting that feeling too?" the Champion asked, moving over to his side. "That we're just going in circles?"

"Yes…" Snape frowned to himself, absentmindedly massaging his injured leg with his gloved, prosthetic hand. "See the notches on this wall, boy? I made them when I first got the feeling of repetition… And this serves to confirm my suspicions." Oh, that was smart!

"We really are going in circles, then," the Champion sighed out, looking to Harkin. "Care to explain this?"

"I… don't know…" Harkin admitted, turning to face them. "The mountain is fighting back much harder than I remember. That headache you mentioned before… I've had one for the last hour. It's trying to get into our heads, trying to break our spirits. The only thing we can do is keep moving forward."

"But we are moving in circles," William hissed. "You have led us astray, Harkin!"

"There is no need for that," Dumbledore said to the old Pukwudgie. "Pointing fingers will not provide us with a solution, and if it does, then I will be mightily impressed, indeed."

William grumbled to himself, pulling his bow closer to his chest as he inspected the walls around them. "Accursed place…"

"The Earth is shifting around us," Octavia suddenly hummed, smiling at them as if nothing were wrong. "Can't you feel it?" …What?

They all stared at her, the happy smile on her face sent a shiver up the Champion's spine. Why didn't she mention this until now? Judging from the looks on everyone's faces, they were all wondering the exact same thing. She's hiding something from us… Why is it that she insisted she join us? She's done nothing but follow Harkin quietly so far.

"Octavia…" Harkin started, narrowing his eyes on her. "What aren't you telling us?"

"The mountain is afraid," Octavia answered. "It sees all who enter it as a threat, and will test us accordingly. This 'repetition' is also a test. We must bow to its will if we are to pass further." I only bow to the will of one, and it sure as shit isn't this mountain!

"And it didn't occur to you that we needed this bit of information?" Snape sneered at her.

"No, it did not," she simply answered, much to the Potions Master's annoyance. "We must brave the darkness and keep moving forward. Come, our journey into the Heart of the Mountain has only just begun."


?

They sat in a circle, sharing water and some of the food Dumbledore had brought with him. The Champion looked down at his Rolex, frowning at the hands which were moving in opposite circles to one another. He had no idea what time it was anymore, whether the sun was still up or not, and this bothered him greatly. He didn't enjoy his schedule being interrupted for anything, but what he despised even more was the absolute lack of control he had over his current predicament.

It made him feel powerless, which in turn made him angrier and angrier with each passing second. I'm going to murder these Sages on principle, at this rate. Bunch of fucking cunts-…

"Ronald? You should eat as well," Dumbledore offered him a bit of bread, but the Champion merely sneered at it.

"I'm not hungry," the Champion refused, going back to staring at his watch. "…Fuck this mountain…"

"Don't lose heart so quickly, Champion," Octavia said reassuringly. "We are almost through; I can feel it."

"Oh, I'm not losing heart," the Champion shot her a deadly look, his eyes flashing red and silencing the entire group. "I'm beginning to get pissed! Which means your Sages are fucking dead the moment I see them!"

"Forgive me, I forget my place," Octavia bowed her head, returning to her silence. Ugh… Brilliant… I'm such a cunt. Whatever. I don't fucking care.

"Here," Snape said softly, offering him a half-filled vial of Calming Tonic. "I brought it for you."

The Champion snatched it from the man's hand, opened the vial, and gulped it down before Dumbledore could object. Immediately, he felt his insides cool, and soon, his mind as well. Merlin, that's so much better. I should've brought my own supply, but instead, I'm having to rely on others. Silently, to punish himself for his outburst, he pressed down on his right forearm, relishing the fiery pain that spread throughout his entire arm.

"…Sorry…" the Champion apologized in a faint whisper, drawing in a deep breath. "I… I just don't like wasting time, and this place… It's doing just that."

"Patience is the most important virtue in the hunt," William said, still looking about as if he could hear voices the others couldn't. "The Lady speaks true. We must hold fast, or, be left broken by this place."

"Are you all right, William?" Dumbledore asked, also having noticed how jumpy the Pukwudgie was being. "You look… spooked."

"…I am fine…" the Pukwudgie looked down at the bow in his lap. "We Pukwudgies prefer the open sky over rocky tombs. Look to yourselves instead, and I will do the same."

"What about you, Artyom?" Dumbledore smiled at the large man, who hadn't spoken a word since entering the caves. "You've been quiet. Is all well?"

"I expect raise," Artyom simply said, shooting the Champion a quick frown. Fair enough, mate. "I do not like it here. There is evil watching us. I know it."

"That's not fucking scary at all," the Champion said, rising to his feet. "C'mon, we've rested enough-" The sound of a child's laughter froze them all in their places, it had come from further up ahead. What in the fuck was that? "Please, tell me you all heard that…"

"We did," Harkin said as they all stood up, brandishing their wands and bow. "This is it, I believe. Octavia was right, we're almost through." Oi, Ravencunt, if you can hear me, I really need your help here. Come on out, already.

The Champion waited, but much to his bewilderment, his ghostly counterpart didn't answer his call yet again. Where is he? Is he too busy protecting my mind from this place's influence? No… No, there has to be more to it than that. It's as if he's gone missing all of a sudden, and I don't like it.

"Be ready for anything," Dumbledore advised them, taking the lead from Harkin. "Follow me, and do not split from the group under any circumstances."

They began moving forward again, with the Champion making sure to stick near Professor Snape in order to better protect him. The Bluebell Flames summoned by Harkin began to grow dimmer the further they went, until eventually, they were snuffed out by an unseen force.

"Lumos," the Champion chanted, just as his companions also lit up their wands.

"Over here, Alby!" a girl giggled from the shadows ahead, and Dumbledore froze mid-step. Alby? Who's Alby? "Play with me! Please!"

"Ariana?!" Dumbledore called out, visibly shaken. Ariana? His sister? "Ariana?! Is that you?!"

"Who is Ariana?" William questioned, nocking an arrow.

"…My sister…" Dumbledore muttered, taking a step forward before Harkin seized him by the arm.

"That's not your sister, Albus," Harkin warned, breaking Dumbledore out of his trance. "Steel your minds with Occlumency, all of you! Those who cannot, stick with someone who can! Octavia, take my hand, now. You're not to leave my sight."

"You have a sister?" Octavia asked Dumbledore, smiling innocently once again as she did as she was told.

"…I used to…" Dumbledore answered, staring longingly at the shadows. "She passed away a long time ago. Forgive my lack of composure, I need a moment."

Snape and the Champion exchanged glances, before the Champion walked over to Dumbledore's side and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. We're here, Sir. Take all the time you need. Dumbledore patted the Champion's hand, giving him a grateful, but weak, smile.

"Let us move on," Dumbledore eventually said, not looking near as hopeful as before.


?

The passageways had grown larger, and now, it felt as though they were surrounded by darkness rather than stone. The Champion continued searching for the Dark Crystals his counterpart had seen during his reconnaissance, but to no avail. It made no sense whatsoever, as Ravenclaw Ron could not have possibly dived so deep without being pulled back, and yet, there was no sign of any Dark Magic.

The Champion was beginning to worry about his companions as well, as they would often jerk their heads in different directions, as if they were being called out to. He himself had heard no more voices since Ariana's, though his headache was getting worse. And then, there's Octavia, who's as happy as a clam. Either this place has no effect on her, or, she knows something we don't. Both possibilities raise a lot of questions-…

Snape suddenly stopped, and the Champion nearly walked into his back. Oi, don't just stop like that.

"Sir?" the Champion called out, but Snape stood motionless, staring off into the dark. "Um, stop you lot! Something's wrong-"

"MURDERER!" a wild, screaming woman rushed them from the side, tackling Snape onto the ground. "You murdered my husband!" What the fuck?! Where did she come from?!

"Severus!" Dumbledore rushed back, while the Champion grabbed the red-haired woman by the back of her neck and hurled her away.

"Get the fuck away from him!" the Champion aimed his wand at her. "Avada Ke-!"

"Don't hurt her!" Snape pushed Albus and Artyom away, rushing to his feet and grabbing the Champion's wand arm. "Stop!"

"What are you-?" the Champion started, stopping when he realized that he was aiming his wand at nothing. What the…? Where did she go?! She was right there!

"Where is she?!" Snape demanded, rushing over to where the Champion had tossed her. "Lily! Lily, where are you?!" Lily? As in Lily Potter?

"Severus…" Dumbledore slowly rose to his feet, a sad look on his face. "It's not real-"

"I touched her! She was there!" Snape hissed, looking unhinged. "And you! You tried to kill her!" Me?

"I was trying to save you-" the Champion defended himself.

"I don't need you to save me!" Snape barked, looking paler than the moon and sweating profusely. "You damn Hell-spawn!" OI! What the fuck?!

"Severus, calm yourself!" Dumbledore ordered, he too looked worse for wear. "Ronald, are you unharmed?"

"It's not me you should be worried about," the Champion replied, looking to the rest of their jarred company. Merlin, look at them… They all look like shit.

Due to the darkness, the Champion had failed to notice that his companions were all sweating and looked as though they were in physical pain. All of them save for Octavia, who looked more curious than upset. Her large eyes were fixated on Snape, who had returned to calling out for Lily Potter. What is she playing at?

"Something is wrong here…" Harkin managed, wiping his brow. "These visions… They shouldn't be able to touch us…"

"You underestimate the powers that protect this place," William growled, his bow hanging loosely by his side. "The truth is that we do not know anything, and should act accordingly."

"And let me guess… You'd have us start attacking anything that moves?" Harkin asked, frowning deeply.

"Yes."

"And what if you shoot one of us in the back?" Harkin chastised. "Foolish mongrel, be silent! You are pushing your luck with me!"

"Asmodeus…" Dumbledore looked appalled, while the Headmaster of Ilvermorny cursed under his breath before walking away from William. "We're stopping here. It's clear that we need to rest, and allow our tempers time to cool. Ronald, come with me."

The Champion gave a nod before following the old man towards Snape, further away from the rest of the group. Seeing the Head of Slytherin so distraught was nothing short of unnerving, it was as if he were a completely different person right now.

"The Killing Curse, Ronald… Really?" Dumbledore whispered, giving him a disapproving look. "How could you resort to such Dark Magic so quickly?" Quite easily, actually.

"It all happened really fast, Sir," the Champion felt no remorse, he had fully intended to kill whatever had attacked Snape.

"You are too quick to kill, and that is most concerning," Dumbledore didn't mask his disappointment. "We have to be better than that, my boy… Or, what are we fighting for, exactly? To take Lord Voldemort's place?"

"I'm nothing like him," the Champion stopped, annoyed with the comparison.

"I'm not so sure about that these days," Dumbledore said firmly, but then, his expression softened a bit. "I am worried about you, Ronald. Truly worried. Whatever Fate has done to you, it is stripping you of your humanity. Only you have the power to resist-"

"Resist? Resist her?" the Champion scoffed. "You haven't seen her, Headmaster… There is no resisting her. I do as I'm told, and I'll be allowed to finish my Cycle. She has made it abundantly clear that she will just replace me with the next if I fail her." And I'm not letting another poor sod suffer the way I've suffered. I just won't do it. All those Rons in those Hourglasses… I won't get sealed away like them! I have to get them out!

"You don't have to kill to defeat an enemy," Dumbledore pleaded, looking towards Snape. "That man is one of the strongest people I know, and just look at him. Look at what his guilt is doing to him. Please, I'm begging you, be better than us. It is not too late." I'll just nod so he leaves me alone.

The Champion gave a half-hearted nod, fighting the urge to roll his eyes. Dumbledore, however, saw through the Champion's weak ploy, and he let out a tired sigh. It's already too late for me, old man, you just refuse to see it.

"What are we going to do about him?" the Champion asked after a moment of quiet. "And what the hell was that before? Would Lily Potter really attack him like that?"

"No, I knew her…" Dumbledore didn't have his usual certainty this time. "She was his only friend, Ronald, and his actions resulted in her untimely demise. Just as my actions resulted in my sister's… I think the mountain is preying upon our guilt. That's why its targeting Severus and I, I believe. We both have many regrets. I can feel it trying to pry into my mind, and I'm afraid I won't be able to resist for much longer."

"Should we turn back, then?" the Champion asked, not pleased. "There's no guarantee that the mountain will stop its attacks on us, even if we plan to leave."

"It is too late for that, dear boy, we must see this through to its end," Dumbledore looked to Snape, who was now walking over to them. "Severus?"

"I… I don't know what came over me…" Snape said, breathing heavily. "I just… I saw her and I lost it… But she's not here. You were right, none of this is real."

"No one can blame you after what just happened," the Champion said, shooting a subtle look towards Octavia. "I think you were right about Octavia, Headmaster. She's up to something. She's watching us whenever we get jumped, and it's obvious that the mountain is leaving her alone. Even William is struggling, but she's as comfortable as she could be." Did I really let her kindness fool me so easily? Well, that ends here. She so much as gives me another reason to be suspicious of her, and I will beat her bloody.

"Keep an eye on her," Dumbledore instructed. "You're resisting far better than we are, Ronald. If things begin to sour, you make sure you're close enough to her to neutralize her. And I mean neutralize, not kill." Yes, yes… I'll just stun her, or, something.

"Another thing…" Snape looked to the Champion, his jaw clenching. "My anger… It wasn't natural. Judging from mine and Harkin's outbursts, and your own, I think our negative emotions are being pulled to the forefront of our minds. We have to stay calm, even in the midst of another episode."

"What are you three planning?" William called out to them, eyeing them with mistrust. "Are you plotting against us?" …the fuck?!

"Case in point," Snape whispered, and Dumbledore gave a subtle nod.

"Gather around, all of you," Dumbledore gestured the others to join them. "We believe we understand a little of what's going on here."


?

The Champion sat alone, his eyes traveling from one companion to the next. Harkin looked ready to fall asleep, same as William, whereas Artyom, Dumbledore, and Snape were all massaging their aching heads. All of them were nearing their limits, with only the Champion and Octavia being the exceptions. There had been no more attacks since Lily Potter's 'ghost', but the Champion knew that it was only a matter of time before the mountain rebegan its assault on them.

"May I join you, Champion?" Octavia approached him, smiling down at him. Good. Fucking. Gods. I can see right up her 'dress' from here… Woah…

"Sure," the Champion put on a smile, looking away. Get a grip, man! "Here, sit right next to me." Where I can easily reach you.

Octavia beamed as she sat down, scooting even closer than he was comfortable with. "Your strength amazes me, Champion. Even now, you remain unaffected by the darkness around us."

"I'm not so sure about that," the Champion said. "I did get a bit angry with you before. I'm sorry about that, by the way. It just… came out of me…"

"I harbour no ill-feelings," she laughed lightly. "Tempers are running hot, I can see that, but you seem to be doing well, now."

"Maybe I'm just putting on an act?" the Champion joked. Or, it's that Calming Tonic I took. I still have a headache, but it's not as bad as everyone else's.

"Are you trying to impress me with this act?" she joked back. "Fear not, for I am already most impressed with you and your vigour." Is… Is she flirting with me? Oh, I'm not letting my guard down, now. You're up to something, and I intend to find out what.

"You haven't seen the extent of my vigour," the Champion smiled charmingly, though his eyes remained cold and empty. "Saying that, however, I think my vigour has nothing on yours… You seem entirely unaffected by what's going on here. Why is that?"

"I am a part of the Earth, just like this mountain," she answered. "It's why I wished to join you all, so I could protect you." Protect us?

"Protect us from what?"

"The darkness, and those that dwell within it," she replied, her eyes shimmering due to his illuminated wand. "We are not alone here. The shadows are alive with the ghosts of the past. Ghosts like that woman who attacked your friend."

"…What?" the Champion blinked. "Are… Are you telling me that that was real? That was Lily Potter's ghost?"

"She was made real by your friend, by his own twisted memory of her," Octavia explained. "The Magic here is as old as the world itself, and it is powerful beyond our imaginations. It is not so hard to believe that it can give physical form to our nightmares, not when you've seen all that I have seen."

"You know a lot more than you're telling us, don't you?" the Champion asked outright, losing his patience with her cryptic talk.

"I can only make observations, Champion," she replied, still smiling. "I fear that I too know little of what has happened to this place, as I've stayed out of it for so long. I feel that the mountain is afraid, it is trembling with fear, and as such, it is doing the same to us in return." Why can't you speak plainly…?

"Can't you tell it that we're here to help?" the Champion asked, and she giggled in response. "What?"

"I cannot speak to stone, Champion, that would be madness," she smiled brightly, holding onto his arm. "I just… know. The same way you would know if you were falling sick, I suppose. The roots of the forest above don't reach this deep, save for the roots of the Sacred Tree."

"How deep are we, exactly?" the Champion asked. "Do you know?"

"Not even halfway," she whispered in his ear, making his blood cold. Not… even halfway…? What?!

"That… That's impossible," the Champion whispered back, shooting a look towards the others. "We've been at it for… Merlin, I don't even know…"

"You would be surprised at what a dying creature will do to protect itself, the sheer lengths it will go to just to keep living," she said, a hint of sorrow in her voice. "Or, perhaps, you already know." …I do… Gods, do I know…

The Champion looked down at his lap, did he have the heart to tell the others of what little progress they had made so far. Why do I get the feeling that I'm the only one who's going to make it out of here alive? Fuck… Maybe we should turn back while we still have the chance-…

"What's wrong, Ron?" an all too familiar voice asked, and the Champion turned to see Daphne sitting beside him rather than Octavia. What in the fuck…? "Are you going to give up? That's what you do, now, isn't it? You just give up… First, it was Violet Parkinson, and then, it was Fate… They've broken you, haven't they?"

The Champion jerked back to his feet, blinking repeatedly and clearing his eyes, only to see Octavia's worried expression staring back at him. I… Fuck, it's getting to me, now!

"Champion?" Octavia rose slowly, nervous.

"Ronald… What's wrong?" Dumbledore asked weakly, shooting a glance in Octavia's direction. "W-what did y-you see…?"

"…Nothing," the Champion lied, feeling just as ashamed as he had after breaking Daphne's heart. "We've sat around long enough, it's time to get moving. We've a long way to go yet."


?

His forehead felt as though it was going to burst, even making his vision hazy every now and then.

Still, he persisted, taking one step after another, and all to prove his darkest fears wrong. Or, was it simply out of stubbornness, at this point? Did he just not know when to stop?

And what had he truly given up?

His ill-fated name? The name of the bastard who'd been suffering for eons with no end in sight?

If so, what was so wrong with that?

Why did it have to be him? Why did he have to carry all the burden?

It wasn't fair…

What was so wrong about wanting shelter from a never-ending storm?

What was so wrong about accepting his fate as the monster of this morbid tale?


?

None of them had spoken a word for hours, the only sound echoing in the dark chamber was the sound of their feet dragging. The headache was getting worse and worse, and he couldn't even begin to imagine how the others were feeling.

Occasionally, he shot a look back to make sure they were still alive, which they were, but they had slowed down significantly. Octavia remained with them, however, and with a gentle whisper and a soft nudge, she was herding them forward into the abyss.

He knew that he ought to help her, help them all, but he was tired of helping others.

He was just so tired of it all…


?

"It's not real, Asmodeus! Please, stop it!" he heard Octavia cry out, and when he looked back, he saw Harkin clutching a dead Dryad in his arms, rocking her broken form back and forth.

Her legs were crushed at the knees, her arms were shattered in multiple places, her torse was split open, and her horror-struck face was where the back of her head should've been.

He was screaming and wailing, as if someone were cutting his heart out of his chest. The Champion, in a moment of lucidity, saw the others pass Harkin by, not even sparing him a glance. Someone needs my help… What am I doing…? Why aren't I helping them…? Isn't that my job?

Step by step, the Champion walked back to Harkin, wincing whenever he let out a blood-curdling scream. Octavia was trying to pull the grieving Headmaster onto his feet, until suddenly, he just stopped, falling forward as if his heart had given out.

Octavia sobbed and shouted Harkin's name over and over again, shaking his body in the hopes of stirring him, but he remained still, despite all her efforts.

"…Is he dead…?" the Champion asked, his voice echoing loudly within his skull.

"The mountain has claimed him," Octavia wept, clinging to Harkin's back. "Don't leave us, I beg you! Don't leave my father in this cold place!"

"…I won't…" the Champion felt his mind slipping from him once again, and so, he grasped his right forearm and squeezed.

The pain brought him back to his senses long enough for him to cast the Hover Charm onto Harkin's frail body, making it float up into the air. Octavia put her hands together, as if praying, and when she split them apart, a long vine had been Conjured in them.

By the time she had finished tying the vine around Harkin's leg, the Champion had already walked away, moving past his aloof companions and leading the way forward.


?

The Champion fell forward onto one knee, his vision darkening. He pressed his right forearm once again, but the pain in his arm was nothing compared to the pain numbing his mind. I think… this is it… for me… I can't… take another step… Finally, the end is here… The darkness began to close in on him, planning to devour him just as it had devoured this place, until suddenly, it was blasted away by the appearance of a burning house.

The Champion covered his eyes and groaned; the fire was so bright that it threatened to blind him. When his eyes finally adjusted, he saw a burnt woman standing on the crumbling porch of the collapsing house, holding a burnt child against her side. She was waving to him, as if beckoning him to join her. …What is this…? Who are you?

A loud thud came from his left, and when he turned his head to look, he saw Artyom kneeling beside him, weeping as he reached out to the woman.

"Yuri!" the woman called, laughing despite her horrid condition. "Yuri!"

"Yasemin…" the large man shook with each sob. "Katya…"

"Papa!" the child called back, laughing alongside her mother. …No… Artyom…

The Champion gathered what little strength he had left in him, and he pushed himself onto his feet, before dragging himself over to Artyom's side. He tried to lift the man onto his feet, but Artyom remained on his knees, burying his tear-soaked face into his hands.

"It's not… real…" the Champion tried. "Please… Get up…"

Artyom, however, fell onto his side, nearly dragging the Champion down with him. He lay there, motionless, just as Harkin, and the Champion knew what that meant.

The mountain had taken another one of them…


?

The Champion awoke from his stupor, only to find himself staring down at a kneeling Octavia tending to William's crumpled body, watching through hazy eyes as she summoned sparkling vines from her hands. They wrapped themselves around William like snakes, until he was entirely cocooned inside them.

"…to keep him safe…" Octavia's voice rang in his ears, making him wince slightly.

He then felt someone tugging at his gloved hand, and he turned to see Daphne smiling lovingly at him, encouraging him to keep moving forward. His friends and family were just ahead of them, all of them calling out his real name, the name he was so afraid of, and yet, through their lips, it felt like a blessing.

Ron smiled back, content to follow them into the darkness until his time came.


?

"It's all my fault…" Dumbledore kept muttering, limping beside Ron. "It's all my fault…"

Ron looked away from his loved ones, focusing on Dumbledore just in time to see him collapse onto his knees. Octavia rushed to his side in a heartbeat, holding the old wizard to her chest as he began whimpering.

"I know I did wrong…" Dumbledore begged her, while she held onto him as tightly as she could, whispering tender words to the broken-hearted man. "Don't hurt them, hurt me… Please, it's my fault, hurt me instead…" I have to… help him-…

"Ron, this way!" Arthur called from on ahead. "You're almost there, son!"

"Don't stop now, Ronnie!" Molly joined him, and Ron looked forward once again.

"Mum… Dad…" he smiled weakly, letting Daphne pull him towards them.


?

"I'm so sorry… I'm so sorry…" a man cried out from behind him, and Ron looked to see Snape repenting on his knees in front of a crib. "I killed her… I murdered her in cold blood… I'm so sorry…"

A baby was crying from inside the crib, a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. Snape tucked in on himself, yanking his own hair out of his head as Octavia desperately tried to stop him from hurting himself.

"Not far now, Ron," Pandora called out to him.

"Finish what you started," Lord Greengrass instructed. "Just as I taught you."

"I will…" Ron marched on, tightening his hold on Daphne's hand.


?

"Foolish wretch…" the Entity's raspy voice echoed around Ron, banishing all of his loved ones and freezing his insides with fear.

"No, please!" he heard himself beg from a distance, looking around for the source of the voices but finding none. Not this again… Please, anything but this…

"You would undo this Cycle…?" the Entity screamed from the darkness, making him cover his ears and fall to his knees. STOP IT! I didn't mean to! I was scared! They hurt her because of me! What was I supposed to do?!

"GET OFF!" his voice howled and pleaded. "STOP! PLEASE!" Someone… Help me! Please!

"We are going to teach you a lesson…" the Entity promised, its voice horrendous and full of rage. "This is what awaits you should you fail Us…"

Ron heard his screams emanate from the darkness, the harrowing sounds of flesh tearing reminding him of his crimes and punishment. Kill me! Just fucking kill me! He clawed at his own ears in order to escape the voices, to escape his torment, but someone else was there by his side, trying to stop him from ending his pain. He could barely hear her over his own cries, however, his eyes burning terribly as his skull felt like it was about to split open down the middle.

Oh, how he hated himself for being so weak… For being so pathetic…

He had given up, and in doing so, he had finally become their slave. It filled him with shame and regret, but his worst crime was knowing that he'd do it again. He was terrified of his tormenters, and he would do anything they wished of him if they would only end his misery as a reward.

"Champion, please!" Octavia cried with him, holding him in her arms. "This is not like you! You're hurting yourself! Champion!"

"…I'm no Champion…" Ron sobbed, his throat nearly tearing. "…I'm nothing… I've always been nothing…"

"You will never move against this Cycle again!" the Entity's voice boomed all around them, making Octavia scream in fright.

The Earth shook beneath them, and then, everything just stopped. The voices, the pain in his head, all of it just stopped. Even his clarity was restored, and Ron was left shaking in the Dryad's arms, jarred by regaining all of his senses at once. What…? What the fuck? Where am I-?

"FUDGE!" Ron heard his own voice again, but this time, it was filled with just as much hatred as the Entity's.

Looking ahead, he saw the former Minister turn on his heel, fear and confusion marring his stressed features.

"Ronald Weasley-!" Fudge started, but before he could even finish recognizing his murderer, a shadow in the shape of Ron charged out of the darkness and buried a blade in his stomach.

Fudge screamed in agony, and both Ron and Octavia watched in horror as the shade began to brutally stab Fudge to death before them.

"You think you can just run away?!" the shade screamed; its glowing red eyes filled with malice. "After all you've done?!"

Octavia let out a whimper, letting go of Ron and crawling backwards, whereas he just sat motionless, watching Fudge sob and beg for mercy as he himself had done against the Entity, but the shade showed none, tearing away at the man's flesh with a bloody dagger.

"NO ONE GETS AWAY FROM ME!" the shade shouted, yanking the screaming man up by his thinning hair and crushing his left kneecap with one strong kick. "You fucking cunt! NO ONE!"

"Please! Please!" Fudge attempted to crawl away in vain, there was so much blood that the shade was barely able to hold its balance. "Help me! SOMEONE! Please… Help me!"

"No one is coming for you!" the shade dug the knife into Fudge's thigh, grinning a needle-sharp grin as blood splattered onto its face.

"Gods…" Fudge coughed, thick red blood oozing out of his mouth.

He helplessly tried to shove his right hand in the shade's face again, but this time; the shade grabbed his wrist, and with a deadly swing of the knife, it sliced off Fudge's fingers as well. The man tried to continue screaming as a way to cope with the torture, but his voice no longer came out. There was too much blood clogging his throat, and even though he was constantly coughing it out; there was always more to come.

"All I wanted was to help the people you hurt!" the shade barked as it threw itself onto the man, stabbing Fudge through his cheek bone and dislodging his eyeball completely. "You fucking bastard! I wanted to do good! I wanted to help other people!" With each word, the shade continued stabbing at the man's face, no longer caring that he was dead. "But you tried to fuck me like one of your cheap whores! Tried to kill me! But I will not be fucked, you fuck! You fucking haemorrhoid-eating cunt! YOU CUNT!"

Ron watched in absolute silence, feeling just as afraid of the shade as his tormenters, and when it suddenly turned its bloodied grin in his direction, Ron shot back and fell onto his arse. Get the fuck away from me! You fucking monster!

"You're next," the shade hissed, before both it and Fudge faded from sight, leaving Ron trembling from fear. That… That was me…? Gods, what have I become? What have I allowed them to turn me into?

After many long moments of quiet, Ron turned back to look at Octavia, and the fear written on her ashen face broke his heart. She was staring at him as if he were the Dark Lord himself, and deep down, Ron understood that she had every right to fear him.

He was a monster, and now, she'd seen his true face…

"…I'm sorry…" Ron croaked, not knowing what else to say. "…I… I'm sorry…"

The darkness began to close in on him once again, his wand slowly losing its light as it slipped from his fingers. Fudge… Forgive me…

"Sleep, Ronald Weasley," a serpentine voice hissed in his mind, and Ron felt his muscles begin to lose all their strength. "We will give you all that you desire, if you will pay us the same respect. Give us your power, and your suffering shall come to an end. We will set you free!"

Ron fell forward onto his face, spotting dozens of lidless, slitted eyes glowing in the shadows, watching him fall victim to the darkness.


?

"Ron! Wake up!" a woman called out, shaking him roughly. …What? "Wake up, already, you goat! I'm going to be late for my meeting!"

Slowly, Ron opened his eyes, hissing when he realized that he was surrounded by light. Where am I? Octavia? He shifted in his spot, quickly realizing that he was laying on a feathered bed rather than bedrock. What the fuck?! Ron shot up, looking around with wide, frightened eyes. Where am I?! What's going on?!

"Merlin! What was that?" the woman laughed as his vision slowly adjusted. Is that…? What. The. Fuck?!

An older version of Daphne, not so different from the vision he'd once had of her, was staring back at him quizzically, a soft smile on her lips. Ron was left both confused and horrified by this sudden turn of events, trying his hardest to figure out what was happening. I… I was in the caves… I saw-… I saw myself murder Fudge… I was no different than the Entity-…

"Why are you looking at me like that?" Daphne asked, losing her smile. "Ron? Do you have a fever?"

She reached forward with the back of her hand, but Ron jerked away, rolling out of the bed and looking around wildly. What…? What is this? Did… Did I die down there…?

He was standing in a decent-sized bedroom, filled with furniture that greatly resembled Aunt Muriel's, the type of modest furniture he had always dreamed of owning if he ever got the privilege to build himself a home. And standing on the other side of the bed, looking equally puzzled, was the witch he had planned to marry one day. …Is this heaven? No, that can't be… I wouldn't be allowed into such a place… What the fuck is going on here?!

"Ron, you're scaring me…" Daphne said slowly, moving around the bed and stopping in front of him. "I'm just checking for a fever, okay? Talk about waking up on the wrong side of the bed…"

She placed the back of her fingers on his forehead, making him jump a little. Don't touch me… Whoever you are, get the fuck away from me. Wait… Is… Is that a ring on her finger? Ron took her hand into his, inspecting her ring finger and seeing that she was wearing his mother's ring. No… No, no, no… What is this?!

"Um, I didn't steal it, if that's what you're wondering," Daphne joked, before reaching down and taking up his left hand. "See? I gave you one in return. That's how marriage works." Marriage?! Bitch, what?! I think I'd remember my own fucking wedding, right?!

Ron stared at the platinum band on his ring finger, it supported a small emerald stud in the middle. God. Fucking. Gods. He gaped at the ring, until she raised his head by his chin. Daphne…? We got married? When…? How? I made it through the war? That… That wasn't the plan…

"Ron, what's wrong?" Daphne asked, looking just as spooked as him. "You're really beginning to worry me, love-"

The bedroom door suddenly slammed open, and a tiny, red-haired girl in pigtails came rushing in. "Daddy! You're up!"

"Cedrella, what I have told you about slamming doors in this house?" Daphne scolded, but the girl simply ignored her, attaching herself to Ron's leg and staring up at him expectantly. There's a fucking kid, too! And her name… That's my grandmother's name! I never got to meet her, but I always liked the name.

"Daddy, up!" she clutched at his pyjamas. "Up!" What…? I'm so fucking confused right now-… "Up, daddy!" Why does she keep saying that?! Get off me, you little shit!

Ron looked to Daphne, his expression a mixture of bewilderment and apprehension, but she just gave him a meaningful look in response. If someone doesn't explain what's going on to me, I'm going to beat both your arses into the dirt!

"I want up!" Cedrella whined, tugging at his leg again. "Mummy!"

"Come here, love," Daphne leaned down and picked up the girl, who looked quite disappointed now. "Daddy's just… having a slow morning…" That's not my fucking kid! I'm still a virgin! Fuck me and my luck! Of course, I end up with a kid without even getting to shag someone! Fuck this!

Losing his patience with this madness, Ron ran for the mirror on the nearby vanity, his jaw dropping when he realized that he was no longer a teenager. Fuck! Am I possessing some poor bastard?! Fate, what did you do this time, you fucking bitch?!

"Shite… This is fucked on so many levels…" Ron mumbled under his breath, also noticing that he was currently shirtless, and more importantly, scarless. This really isn't my body…

He quickly looked to his right forearm, shocked, and quite relieved, to see that his Magical wounds were no longer there. No more pain…?

"Marty!" Daphne called, and an Elf cracked into the room. Marty?! He's here too?!

"Mistress called," Marty bowed deeply, while Ron stared at his wrinkles in awe. "Ah, there's the young Lady! Forgive Marty, but the young Lady fled before Marty could finish making breakfast!"

"I want apples!" Cedrella clapped her hands excitedly. "And juice!"

"Marty, can you please take Cedrella and finish dressing her for me? I'm running very late as it is," Daphne handed the tiny girl over to Marty. "Ron, can I have a word with you? In private?" No, thanks.

"Good morning, Ron!" Marty greeted him, smiling widely. Ron?! He… He finally called me by my name…?

"Daddy being weird," Cedrella giggled, having already forgotten her previous disappointment. "Weird daddy!" Oi, stop that! Don't make me teach you some manners!

"So, nothing new, then?" Marty joked, shooting Ron a nod before Apparating away with Cedrella. I… I need to figure out what's going on here, and then, I need to get back to those bloody caves! But first, I need to get away from this Daphne.

"Ron, what's going on with you?" Daphne huffed in indignation, frowning a little. Yep, that's definitely Daphne. She's just not my Daphne.

"I need a shower," Ron blurted out, making her blink. "I… You're right, I'm being weird. Sorry, I just woke up, and I'm a bit out of it. A shower will fix me right up."

"Hold on-"

"And I need to shit," he added for good measure, heading for the other door and praying that it led to an adjoining bathroom.

"Ron, wait…" she called out, and he stopped just as he turned the handle. "I have to go to my meeting, so I won't be here by the time you finish."

"And?" Ron asked slowly, turning to face her.

"Well… You always give me a kiss for luck, remember?" she looked greatly bothered by his rush. I can't kiss someone else's wife! No, that's just wrong! This poor bastard is probably dead, that's why I'm possessing him. Oh, Merlin, what a fucking mess!

"Haven't brushed my teeth," Ron said, walking over and patting her on the head. "Good luck with your… meeting…"

She blinked repeatedly, her mouth hanging open as Ron rushed into the bathroom and sealed the door behind him.

"Fate, you golden twat!" he hissed now that he was alone. "Answer me! What have you done?!" And how the fuck do I get out of here?!


Author's Notes: My neck, my back, lick my-... Okay, I'll stop...