AUTHOR'S NOTES: Sorry for the delay, people! This one was harder to write than most!


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)


Chapter 146 – Sacrifice

Severus Snape's POV


He lay perfectly still within the darkness, unable to move and unable to speak, as if some unseen power was trying to smother him. His body felt cold and weak, and the Cursed wound on his leg throbbed terribly. He was dying, he knew it, but he felt no fear. It was always going to end this way for him, alone in the dark, and he'd made his peace with that fact a long time ago. My only regret now is that I didn't get to uphold my promise to the Sages, but I know that I will be avenged. If not by Albus, then most definitely by Ron. He will tear them apart piece by piece, and when they reach the afterlife, I will be waiting for them. Their suffering has only just begun.

Snape closed his eyes and steeled his mind with Occlumency, going over the better memories of his life one last time. He thought of his mother, who had been taken from him far too early. He thought of Lily, who was the first person to offer him friendship. He thought of Hogwarts, which had made him feel safe and welcome within its halls. He thought of his fellow Heads of Houses, who had looked past his evil deeds and given him a second chance. He thought of Albus, who had become so much more than a mentor and friend. He thought of his Slytherins, who pushed themselves towards excellence at every turn. He thought of Draco, who was finally becoming his own person rather than his accursed father's reflection. And then, lastly, he thought of Ron, who would finally change this unjust world for the better through sheer will, ceaseless cunning, and unrelenting strength. I feel… cold… Empty… How fitting, that I survive the Dark Lord's cruelty, only to die because I chose to undo another. Curse him… I Curse him to oblivion…

However, just as Snape's body and mind began to wane, darkness gave way to light, startling him and making him recoil. What is-?!

"Severus!" came Albus' relieved voice, and he felt strong hands grip him by the shoulders and lift him up. "Easy with him, Artyom, please. He is not well."

A putrid smell filled his lungs, nearly making him gag, and when his eyes finally began to adjust to the light, he saw the old man staring intently at him.

"Albus…?" Snape croaked, confused and in pain.

"My boy, I had feared the worst," Albus beamed, his twinkling eyes wet. "Artyom, please, set him down. His injuries must have sped up the draining process." The draining process?

Artyom lowered Snape onto the ground, before taking off his large coat and wrapping it around the Potions Master as a makeshift blanket. Snape, on the other hand, looked around at his surroundings, spotting Harkin and William studying a cocoon attached to a thick, pulsating vine. Where's the boy? I don't see him.

"What happened?" Snape asked Albus, who reached into his Enchanted bag and pulled out a leather water bottle.

"Drink this, Severus," Albus offered, and Snape immediately accepted, greedily drinking down the water as if it were an antidote to poison. "Slowly, my boy. Take your time."

"It can't be much further, Dumbledore," Harkin said as he walked over with Snape's wand in hand, looking more sickly than usual. "The passageways are becoming narrower. I remember this place from when I first took the Oath, despite its current state."

"What is going on?" Snape demanded, his voice weak and raspy as he pointed towards the cocoon made up of vines. "What is that thing? Why was I trapped in there?"

"We have been tricked, Severus, by the Sages and by Octavia," Albus answered, his gaze hardening. "The Sages have been assaulting our minds from the moment we set foot inside these caves, and then, when we were finally incapacitated, Octavia bound us within those cocoons. They were draining us of our Magic, our very lives."

"…Why?" Snape frowned deeply, before thinking of Ron. "Where is the boy? Why is he not with you?"

"He went further," William spoke up from a slight distance, he had already found faint tracks heading deeper into the darkness. "He wasn't alone. The Lady was with him." That treacherous bitch… She'll die too, then.

"What is the meaning of this, Harkin?" Snape asked dangerously, glaring up at the skeletal man.

Harkin, however, said nothing in response, simply averting his gaze.

"I don't know why they did this to us, my boy, but I intend to find out," Albus promised, rising to his feet. "Artyom, stay with Severus, won't you? He is not fit to travel-"

"I am not staying put, Albus," Snape argued, but a stern look from the old wizard silenced him.

"Please, Severus, no arguments this time," Albus said simply, his voice civil despite his expression. "I will not lose you over something as foolish as pride. Your body is no longer what it used to be, and after being exposed to this foul Magic, it is even weaker. You must rest. I will find Ronald, and after that-"

A deafening, thunderous noise suddenly cut Albus off, and it was promptly followed by the very foundations of the mountain trembling. They all covered their ears and scampered for safety by each other's side, with Albus raising a golden shield around them post-haste. What was that?! It… It sounded like thunder! Wait… That could only mean one thing-…

"Gods above, what just happened?" Harkin looked to Albus, alarmed but ready for battle. "The entire mountain just shook!"

"The Sages intend to bury us, now that their lies have failed them," William snarled, pointing towards the forming cracks across the walls.

"That wasn't the Sages," Albus whispered, speaking more to himself than them. "Rather, that was the sound of their reign coming to an end." Ron… Good! I hope he butchers them all! "Come! We must all hurry! Before these caves become our tomb!"

The Champion's POV


"What a lovely home you've made for yourselves," the Champion smirked, looking about the cavern in a fanciful manner. "My Chamber is far superior, of course, but this isn't too shabby. It will serve me well-"

"It is not yours to take," the black Horned Serpent hissed, slithering forward. "Begone! You have played your part in this story-!"

"Silence!" the Champion barked, waving his hand and launching the serpent back with a Wandless Depulso. "We will speak, and you will all listen!"

His terrible voice echoed throughout the chamber, causing the Horned Serpents to hiss in pain and cower back towards the ashen tree. Even the large snake who had boldly addressed him shrunk, lowering its gaze in equal fear and obedience. Ah, that's better. I prefer it when they know their place. Saves me time and effort.

"Good… We can continue, but know that if you interrupt me again, I'll make a suit out of you," the Champion 'smiled', opening his jacket and showing them the intricate Basilisk skin lining inside. "You have a lot to answer for, all of you, but let's start of simple… What are you playing at? Why did you call me here, only to attack me and my friends? You asked for my help, didn't you?" The serpents remained silent, bowing their heads like cowards. "ANSWER US!"

The Horned Serpents recoiled once again, but after a few moments of silence, the largest snake slithered forward once again, keeping its head bowed this time. "We sensed the Dark One's Magic within you. We have searched for another like him for many years, for only Salazar's Magic can undo the Curse cast by his descendant." Salazar's Magic? What? And they sensed the Dark Lord's Magic within me? Fuck… That doesn't bode well for me.

The Champion drew in a sharp breath, rubbing his temples. "Speak plainly, will you? Start from the start. Tell me what this Curse is. Tell me how it all started. The Sacred Tree, Salazar's involvement in this mess, the Dark Lord… All of it."

"Only if you share with us what you truly are-"

"This is not a negotiation," the Champion snarled, his eyes flashing red. "There is no negotiating with me, you understand? You do as I say, or, I kill you. You tell me everything I want to know, or, I kill you. You serve me, or, I kill you. Now… Proceed, before I lose what's left of my patience."

The serpents exchanged glances, before they all looked to their leader. The large, black serpent raised its horned head, the purple gem on its forehead shimmering brightly all of a sudden. Oh, really? You think I'm bluffing, do you? The Champion cocked an eyebrow as he brandished his wands, turning his head and cracking his neck. Time to die, then, you fucks-…

"Centuries ago, when I was yet a mere hatchling, I had a vision," the black serpent hissed, stopping the Champion's rampage before it even started. "I saw a young witch, running from a past that would one day catch up to her. I saw that, under her care, this land would prosper. That my kind would prosper. For many years after that vision, I searched for her, but to no avail. I searched the forests. I searched the hills. I searched the rivers. I even searched the settlements of men. But time and time again, I failed to find her, until one day, she found me bathing in a creek at the foot of this mountain. The Child of Destiny… Her name was Isolt Sayre, and in her veins flowed the hallowed blood of Salazar Slytherin and the Dread Witch, Morrigan." Woah… Interesting!

"Isolt Sayre was the descendant of Salazar? The descendant of Morrigan herself?!" the Champion blinked, surprised by the revelation. "No history book can back up that claim… Why should I believe you?"

"She spoke our tongue, a gift from Salazar's blessed blood," the serpent answered. "And she commanded nature as if it were an extension of her will, a gift from Morrigan's blessed blood. There is power in blood, Empty One. Great power!" What did he just call me? Empty One? What's with the weird nicknames?

"Isolt's parents were descendants of Salazar and Morrigan, then?" the Champion asked. "That's quite a combination. No wonder she achieved all that she achieved."

"Her mother came from Salazar's bloodline, and her father came from Morrigan's… Yes…" the serpent nodded; its fierce eyes locked with the Champion's. "I knew, from the moment I saw her, that I had to bind her to us. To our mountain. And so, I spoke to her and gave her these words… 'Until I am a part of your family, your family is doomed'. Isolt, above all else, desired kinship, and so my words never left her. They followed her in every waking moment, which in turn kept her on the mountain. Close to us. Close to me."

"What did you mean by those words?" the Champion frowned, not liking the idea of such a brilliant witch being manipulated by this Creature.

"Her Aunt, Gormlaith Gaunt, murdered her parents when she was still a child, and I had foreseen that, one day, Gormlaith would once again come for Isolt and her newly formed family," the Horned Serpent hissed, slowly shifting closer. "When her surrogate son, Chadwick Boot, became of age, I sent Isolt a vision, in which she shaved a portion of my horn to be used to craft a wand for him. Isolt was superstitious, and that very day, she came to me and made me a part of her family. It was through my horn that I was able to warn Chadwick of Gormlaith's coming attack, and thus, I fulfilled the Prophecy bestowed upon me so many years prior. It was through my will that Isolt lived. It was through me that this land prospered, and has continued to prosper. I have since shaped the destinies of all those who followed Isolt, and through them, I have shaped this land's destiny!" What an arrogant prick… I should murder him. I can't have a dangerous bastard like him slithering about in my world, but first, I should get as much information out of him as possible. If he's really as old as he claims, then he's been around since before the Sacred Tree, and as such, must know all about it.

"Shaped this land's destiny, eh?" the Champion nodded slowly, his mind made up already. "That's quite the feat, serpent. I'm assuming that you're the one who took Harkin's fingers, then? Some sort of Blood Pact?"

"You have your Magic, Empty One, and we have ours," the Horned Serpent hissed, sounding awfully proud. "Harkin willingly offered us his flesh in exchange for our knowledge, and as even wizards know, knowledge comes at a price. He swore to be the protector of this land, and we are this land. He belongs to us!" Not for long, cunt. Not for long.

"And Reyes too?" the Champion asked, unable to help his curiosity.

"Ah, little Heitor…" the serpent shuddered from pleasure, unnerving the Champion a little. "The last remaining descendant of Isolt Sayre…" What?! "It's true, Empty One. Heitor Reyes carries within him the blood of Isolt, and by extension, the blood of Salazar and Morrigan." Oh, shit…

"Martha Steward… Octavia mentioned that no one knows where she ended up after she ran away from Ilvermorny," the Champion was left astounded, and evermore curious.

"I do, for I watched her from afar, in her dreams, even after she left the mountain," the Horned Serpent continued. "She became the mate of a Magicless thing from the Pocomtuc Tribe, one of the tribes Isolt shared her knowledge of wands with. When the tribe departed from this land, she departed with them in disguise. It was not long, however, before she was discovered, and those loyal to Isolt within the tribe attempted to return Martha to her grieving mother. She escaped once again, alongside her mate, traveling south for another land. For another life. Heitor comes from her Bloodline, the first in many generations able to wield Magic. The day he set foot on our mountain, I sensed within him the Magic of his ancestors, and I knew… I knew that I had to bind him to our will, and that through him, I would once again shape the future of this world." You fucker… You went after him when he was just a boy? I'm going to make a belt out of you for that!

"How did you do it?" the Champion asked, his voice calm despite his growing rage. "Did you send him visions as well? Manipulated him into finding you?"

"Yes, and it was easy, for he too desired knowledge like Isolt in ages past," the Horned Serpent answered. "In his dreams, I spoke to him. I promised him knowledge and power, showing him the way into the Heart of the Mountain. He was afraid, at first, but as he grew older and bolder, he listened to me and followed my voice. He found the entrance into our home, and he paid the price at the threshold. His flesh for our knowledge."

"His flesh, and his freedom…" the Champion corrected, eyeing the serpent up and down. "What did you show him, then? What knowledge was worth losing his freedom?"

"I revealed to him his ancestry, and then, I gave him his purpose in this world," the Horned Serpent replied. "I showed him the Great War, the rise of the Dark One, and through my visions, he began to understand the horrors his kind were capable of. He became a most eager pupil after our first encounter, learning the arts of secrecy and deceit as if he were one of us. And now, through him, I can better control Wizarding Kind and its endless ambition. This land belongs to us, and only us. Not wizards. Not Pukwudgies. Not Centaurs. Not Dryads-"

"I get it… Shut up, will you?" the Champion clicked his tongue, massaging his forehead. "So, he's one of the reasons why your existence is kept secret. You have control within the Magical Congress of the United States of America, and you have control over Ilvermorny. Because of this, every wizard and witch within this country has been influenced by you in some shape or form… I'm honestly a little impressed with what you've pulled off here, serpent." And now, I'm definitely killing every single one of you. You don't care for the betterment of the world; you just want to control everyone and everything in it. You just want others to bend to your will, and yet, you say that we wizards have endless ambition? Get fucked.

"Is this not what you too desire, Empty One?" the Horned Serpent asked, and the Champion drew in a sharp breath. I don't know… Maybe… "If you could shape the world to your liking, to bend its people to your will, would you not do the same?" Shit… I can't deny that I've often fantasised about having such power…

"I'd want to, yes…" the Champion couldn't help but feel a little ashamed. "It would be easier than convincing people to do better, to be kinder… Everyone, not just wizards, tend to serve themselves first and foremost, regardless of who their actions hurt. You forced a child to mutilate himself so that you'd stay in control. It worked, sure, but what you did was evil. Reyes deserved a chance to learn for himself, to shape his own destiny-…"

The Champion stopped as an epiphany blossomed in his mind; is this why Dumbledore had not forced his will upon the Wizengamot time and time again? Upon all of Wizarding Europe? He had mentioned that he had wanted people to learn to be kinder and more understanding towards others, rather than forcing them into following his beliefs, but at the time, the Champion had only seen those who had been harmed by Dumbledore's inaction, rather than fully understanding what he had meant. Doing the right thing doesn't matter if you do it for the wrong reasons, does it? People like Fudge and Umbridge, cowards, would be quick to do as Dumbledore commanded, but they wouldn't mean it. They wouldn't understand why trampling on others' throats to prop yourself up is wrong, and down the line, they'd just go back to being self-serving cunts if given the chance. The world wouldn't change at all, it would only gain another tyrant.

"What is it, Empty One?" the Horned Serpent asked, narrowing his fierce, blue eyes. "Why do you not speak?"

"Because… I'm thinking of a great man, and all that he has left to teach me still…" the Champion smiled a little, feeling somewhat wiser than he was a moment ago. "You were right, I would force my desires onto others. I'd force them to be better than their baser natures through fear of my wrath, and although that would make my life easier, none of the people terrified of me would learn a damn thing. They'd just go back to being selfish and cruel once I'm gone, wouldn't they? I wouldn't have changed a thing in the long run." Old man… Why do I doubt you? I'm a fool, that's why. You had all the power in the world, and yet, you never abused it, as any lesser man would have. You chose to be better than that. You could have done more to spread your wisdom, yes, but you also could've done far worse. I can't fully agree with how you went about things, but at least now, I know where you were coming from. "Thank you, Sage, for imparting some wisdom onto me. It seems that, in my anger and suffering, I lost sight of something very important."

"Lost sight of what?" the serpent hissed, sounding annoyed at the prospect of teaching without taking.

"The importance of free will," the Champion answered, straightening his back and standing taller. "The importance of knowing right from wrong. The importance of realizing where the line should be drawn." I'm not as wise nor as experienced as the old man, but I can learn from his example, can't I? And improve upon it? What's stopping me, exactly? No one and nothing. "I only have a few more questions, and after that, we'll be done here. Tell me, why did you invite the Dark Lord into your home? What possessed you to lose your great cunning and allow that monster to Curse you?"

"The Dark One will be the end of us all," the Horned Serpent hissed angrily, his gem glowing even more brightly. "I have seen it, Empty One. A world torn asunder by its own Magic, harbouring no life and no future." Really?! You've seen the end too, have you? Who gives these Sages their visions? Is it Fate? Or, some other power I haven't encountered yet? "You are not surprised by my words… How very interesting, Empty One… Have you too seen what is to come?" This prick has no idea about me, does he? About all the shit I've seen?

"I have, indeed," the Champion answered, feeling some kinship with the serpent despite not wanting to. "Still, knowing what is to come doesn't explain your actions."

"I wished to show him what his madness would bring," the Sage whispered, slithering closer to the Champion. "Once again, I believed that it was my duty to intervene before it was too late. I called out to him, pushing past his barriers by force, until finally, he answered. Under my guidance, he entered the mountain unimpeded, but he failed to hide his presence from the Dryad who guarded the forests above, Awena-"

"Octavia's past incarnation?"

"The very same," the serpent nodded. "Far more powerful than the child grown from her seed, she stood in the Dark One's path, but he destroyed her as if she were an unwanted toy. That is when I realized the error of my action, for the Dark One cannot be controlled. He cannot be tamed. He had not come to us seeking knowledge, but rather, he wished to dominate us. His will was too great, and his strength was unmatched. He tore down the walls, just as you did, and marched upon us with murderous intent. He killed all our young for his pleasure, and he made me watch as punishment for daring to address him as an equal. He then Cursed me to remain forever bound to the tomb of my children, away from the rivers and the sun." My, my… Pride really does come before the fall, doesn't it? You thought you were untouchable, but he proved you wrong. And now, he thinks he's untouchable, and I'll prove him wrong. It's just another cycle, one that I don't plan to fall prey to.

"Is that why he Cursed the Sacred Tree as well?" the Champion asked, looking to the serpents in the back. "To punish those of you left for entering his mind and sending him visions?"

"No… He Cursed the tree because it rejected him," the leader of the snakes replied, and the Champion raised an eyebrow.

"What do you mean by that? He wanted its power, did he?"

"He wanted the Source, yes… The Sacred Tree exists only because of Salazar Slytherin, for it is an extension of his will. The Dark One desired this power, as he believed it to be his right, but the tree rejected his claim."

"What are you on about? Salazar died ages ago. Long before Ilvermorny-"

"As I have already explained, his descendant founded Ilvermorny," the snake interrupted, its forked tongue licking the air. "Isolt, upon her arrival, carried with her Salazar's own wand, passed down in her mother's family through generation after generation. It belonged to Gormlaith Gaunt before Isolt stole away with it, and on the day Gormlaith came seeking her vengeance, she commanded the wand to sleep." You can do that? What the fuck? "Even after her death at the hands of the hunter, William, the wand refused to reawaken, and so, Isolt buried it deep within the forest behind her home. Behind Ilvermorny. The Magic of the Grey Mountain did what Isolt could not, however, and the wand awakened once again. It is my belief that it carries within in it Salazar's will, who, as many know, was the most powerful Healer of his age."

"Salazar's will…" the Champion muttered, remembering Salazar's notes. "He made that wand before he left Hogwarts… He made it to heal others, regardless of their origin… It was his way of atoning for the hatred he had carried in his heart for all his life… His way of atoning for the sins of his ancestor, Herpo the Foul."

"Truly?" the Horned Serpent looked particularly interested, now.

"I found his notes and deciphered them," the Champion gave a nod, glad that everything was finally starting to fall into place. "The Sacred Tree grew from that very wand, didn't it? Its Magic joining with the Grey Mountain's resulted in the birth of a snakewood tree capable of Magically healing most, if not all, ailments."

"He wished to atone, you say… How very interesting, indeed," the Horned Serpent hissed to himself, his eyes greedy for more information. "What else?! What else did his writings reveal?!"

"Again, this is not a negotiation," the Champion reminded the Horned Serpent, who hissed at him. It's annoying not having all the answers, isn't it? Now, imagine how I felt during this entire shitshow! "How did the tree reject him? The Dark Lord, I mean. What's this Source?"

"That is not your concern," the serpent told him, much to his amusement.

"Everything is my concern," the Champion chuckled coldly, looking to the strange, ashen tree behind the Horned Serpents. "Is that it right there? That weird tree your people are guarding? It's not exactly a snakewood tree, but it does look like its connected to the Sacred Tree above."

Scanning the spindly branches of the tree all the way to the ceiling, where they had burrowed themselves into the grey stone, the Champion smirked as he came to a sudden realization. That isn't a tree at all… These are the roots of the Sacred Tree, warped and given form by Magic. This is mental! I bet if I destroyed the roots, the Sacred Tree above would die. No wonder they keep this place a secret. This 'tree' must've been what the Dark Lord Cursed!

"You too shall be rejected!" the Horned Serpent hissed suddenly, and the Champion turned his attention back to him. "You bare his taint upon you! His vile Magic-!"

"What do you mean by his 'taint'?" the Champion finally asked, drawing in a deep breath. "You told me that he lives within me, remember? What does that mean, exactly? How did you even know about me?"

The Horned Serpent looked to the Champion's Aspen wand, letting out a melancholic, but beautiful, hum, and much to the Champion's surprise, the wand hummed back, feeling hotter within his hand. You have got to be fucking with me? Horned Serpents can communicate with the Core of my wand? They can even sense my Magic through it?

"Unbelievable," the Champion muttered to himself, staring at his Aspen wand. "You fuckers don't know anything about me, do you? Not really… And here I thought that you even had knowledge about the Elders… Why would they ever reveal themselves to worms like you? I'm an idiot…" The Champion's eyes then flashed red, clashing against the Horned Serpent's. "I have a piece of the Dark Lord's soul within me, don't I? Is that what you sensed through my wand?" Just say it… I know it to be true already…

"I could not believe it when I first felt it, but yes…" the Horned Serpent hissed, and the Champion felt his heart clench painfully. "Even I don't understand how such a thing is possible, but your Bloodline has never been capable of Parseltongue before you-"

"Avada Kedavra!" the Champion snapped, and a brilliant, green light engulfed the chamber, banishing the shadows momentarily before dissipating, leaving behind the fresh corpse of the Horned Serpent, his long, forked tongue hanging loosely out of his ajar mouth.

Feeling his right arm ache, and his knees buckle, the Champion fell forward onto all fours, panting from a mixture of exertion and disgust. FUCK! The Entity did this to me! I just fucking know it! It's the only explanation! It must've happened when I was attacked by the Dark Lord during first year! I couldn't speak Parseltongue before then!

Everything the Sages had shown him now felt like an insult, a dream that could never be his. He was condemned to die all along, for as long as he walked the Earth, so did the Dark Lord. In the back of his mind, he had realized this truth already, but now, it was right in his face, and confronting it filled him with so much hatred and bitterness that he felt as though he was moments away from bursting. Cedrella… Septimus… Ha! What a fucking joke! This-… This is fucking hilarious! Should've known better than to hope for such an ending, but I did it anyway! What a dumb cunt!

The Champion let out a strangled laugh, pushing himself back to his knees and staring up at the grey stone above. But there's so much left to do, isn't there? Even after I tear the Dark Lord apart, my work won't be done… There's just so much… Maybe the whole problem is that I'm trying to fix a world that doesn't want to be fixed? Wouldn't it just be better to butcher, maim, and brutalize the bastards responsible for the need of my existence, instead? Enjoy the ride, as it were? Before it ends? He laughed again, his cracked voice echoing throughout the chamber. Fate knew about this all along, which must be why she's so adamant about me 'serving' her after I've done her dirty work here! Her, the Entity, Dream, Death… What a bunch of twats! My only regret is that I can't kill them all as well!

As his unhinged laughter slowly came to an end, his head swimming in what felt like syrup, the Champion turned his attention towards the remaining Horned Serpents, who were just staring at him intently. What? What are they doing? Why aren't they attacking me? I just murdered their leader-… The Aspen wand suddenly hummed, and the Champion instinctively looked back to the dead Horned Serpent, only to discover that he was gone, and that he had been replaced by a small crater left behind by the Killing Curse. What the fuck? Where did he-? The wand hummed again, much louder this time, and from the corner of his right eye, the Champion saw the large serpent lunge towards his face, bearing his terrible fangs. Oh, fuck!

The Champion fell onto his left side in an effort to dodge the attack, raising his wand hand to shield his face. The Horned Serpent latched onto the Champion's forearm with his vice-like mouth, his long fangs digging into the suit but failing to puncture the Basilisk lining within. More fucking illusions, huh?! The serpent's tail-end quickly found the Champion's throat, wrapping itself around his neck like a noose in an effort to strangle him. Fucking get off of me, you slippery cunt!

"Cutis Terra!" the Champion managed to grit out, feeling his bones and muscles harden into steel.

Ignoring the rampant pain shooting across his body, the Champion grabbed the Horned Serpent by his throat with his left hand, squeezing so hard that the serpent loosened his mouth in order to hiss in agony. I'll tear your fucking head off! Glacius! Frost overtook the Champion's left hand, before slowly crawling all over the Horned Serpent's throat, causing him to wriggle violently in an effort to break free. The Champion, however, further tightened his grip, shattering the serpent's frozen scales and exposing the cold flesh beneath. The Horned Serpent all but screamed, his tail coming loose and thrashing about in panic. Laughing viciously, the Champion slammed the dying serpent head-first against the stony ground repeatedly, shattering the glowing gem on his head and exposing parts of his brain. Fuck you, and your fucking lies! You gave me hope and then you took it away! I'm going to kill your entire brood for that! Your schemes end today!

By the time he was done with the Horned Serpent, casting his limp, mangled corpse aside, the Champion was drenched in cold blood. The other serpents hissed and cried out for their leader, but the pain of their loss fell on deaf ears. The Champion stood up on shaky legs, feeling the limits of his body quickly approaching, but he remained undeterred from his task. Step by step, he approached the trembling serpents, until one of them suddenly shot forward, peering directly into his eyes as its gem began to glow red.

"Fuck… you…" the Champion grit out as pain shot up his skull, slowing him down even more so. "I'll dance… on your… graves…"

Several Horned Serpents followed their kin's lead, their gems glowing ever brighter as the Champion was subjected to a terrifying amount of pain. He was quickly brought down to his knees once again, screaming as he clutched his head in fear of it exploding. Get out! Get out of Our head!

With what little strength he had left, the Champion aimed his wand at the Horned Serpents, his arm swaying as his vision began to darken, but before he could so much as think of an incantation, a fiery wall erupted between him and the Horned Serpents, bringing with it an end to his pain. …What? Who did that?

"Get away from him, wretches!" Dumbledore's voice boomed, and the Champion grinned as blood trickled out of his nose and ears. You're so fucked, now… He's here… The instrument that will exact my vengeance… "Ronald! Asmodeus, take charge of the flames! Quickly!"

The Champion felt strong hands grab him as he fell backwards, and Artyom's furious face came into sight. "You're hurt! What did they do to you?!" Kill them for me, Artyom… Kill them all…

"Ronald, speak to us, my boy," Dumbledore kneeled beside them, turning the Champion's head to face him. "Merlin's Beard…"

Thinking quickly, despite his consciousness abandoning him, the Champion adorned a more subdued expression, reaching out and taking Dumbledore's hand in his gloved one. "Sir… They're evil… They've been hurting people for… centuries… They want to destroy us… All of us… Even the Muggles…"

"What?" Dumbledore's eyes widened from shock.

"They're in control… of everything…" the Champion felt his eyes close on their own. "They want this world for… themselves… Stop them… End them, before… it's too late…" Ah, that'll do, I reckon. I'm done… Pushed myself too far yet again…

Unable to go on, the Champion finally gave in, content in knowing that his words would result in the end of the Sages. I… win… Always…

Albus Dumbledore's POV


Albus stared at Ronald's pale face, his eyes following the trickles of blood coming out of the boy's nose and ears, and he felt a rage hotter than a hundred suns well up inside his chest. He tightened his hold on Ronald's gloved hand, giving it a paternal squeeze before rising to his feet. All thoughts of mercy had now been banished from his mind, they had the moment he had seen Ronald on his knees, screaming from the Sages' relentless assault upon his mind.

"Artyom, take Ronald and escape," Albus ordered, and as if sensing the Grand Sorcerer's fiery rage, Artyom eyes widened a little as he gave a weak nod.

"I will take him to safehouse," Artyom said as he grabbed and pocketed Ronald's wand, before lifting Ronald up like a babe and rushing away.

"Severus, you should join him-"

"No," Severus interjected, his wand already at the ready. "If what the boy said was true, then we're ending this together. I made these bastards a promise, and I intend to keep it."

"Albus, wait," Asmodeus shot a look back, holding the flames up with his wand. "I can't let you destroy them; I took an oath to protect them-"

"Stupefy!" Severus hissed, shooting Asmodeus in his back.

The Headmaster of Ilvermorny fell forward unceremoniously, and with him, fell the wall of fire Albus had erected. Looking towards Severus with a raised eyebrow, Albus quickly realized that Severus had saved Asmodeus from breaking his oath by removing him from the equation altogether. Neither man said anything, instead turning their attention towards the hissing serpents protecting an eerie tree.

"You have made a most egregious error, Horned Serpents of the Grey Mountain," Albus frowned deeply at them, shooting a nonchalant glance back at the largest of the serpents that lay dead a few feet behind him. "This was your leader, I take it. Ronald's brutality has only become more prevalent, but this time, I'm willing to ignore it. He came here to help you, but from the start, you have been manipulating his giving nature, haven't you? You gave him the gift he desired most, his friend's health, and you think that buys you the right to abuse him? No… I may not be able to help him as much as I desire, but whenever the opportunity presents itself, I am willing to go to war for that boy, as you will soon learn."

"Enough talk!" William growled, nocking an arrow. "Let's kill them, already!"

The serpents hissed at Albus, as if trying to communicate with him, but Albus remained indifferent to them. Their words were lies and their promises were traps, and Albus would not fall for them a second time, not after what Ronald had warned him of. Serving them is what brought Asmodeus so close to ruin. Under their command, Octavia betrayed us and left us for dead. They twisted the memory of my sister to make me their puppet. Severus could've died whilst they drained him of his power. All of this, I could've forgiven, but what they were doing to Ronald… No. I will not forgive the torture of a child. Never again.

Albus stepped forward, feeling the Earth's Magic more closely than ever before. He reached out to it, calling for its aid, and it answered once again, causing the air around him to come to a boiling point. This was indeed a Site of Power, because Albus had never felt such power surge through his body before. The mountain shook from his mere presence, the moisture in the air turned to steam, and wherever he stepped he left a burning footprint behind. The serpents, like the cowards they were, scattered in all directions the moment his eyes began to glow blue, surrendering the eerie tree in favour of saving themselves.

But they did not get far.

With a wave of the Elder Wand, Albus sent forth a golden pillar of light which blasted through several Horned Serpents, leaving behind only an imprint of their shadows. Severus lobbed a lime-green, noxious ball into the air, and Albus, with a flick of his spare hand, brought it to life. The poison searched for fleeing serpents in the shape of ghostly hands, melting their scales and burning their lungs as it forced its way into their respiratory systems. William stood motionless as Severus and Albus cut through the Horned Serpents like a pair of hot knives through butter, his eyes wide in awe of their coordination and effectiveness in battle.

Without a word being spoken, Albus and Severus marched upon the last of the serpents, who attempted to attack Severus with Legilimency, but the Potions Master only smirked in response, before severing the serpent's head with a Non-Verbal Sectumsempra. That was the last of them, I believe. Such ugly business, but after what Ronald told us, it had to be done. They're too dangerous, and too treacherous, to be left on the board. May the Gods forgive our actions here today, and may such powers never rise again within the States.

"I'm a man of my word," Severus spat out, sneering down at the beheaded Horned Serpent. "Is that all of them, Albus?"

"Give me a moment," Albus answered, his soft voice distorted as if the Earth itself were speaking through him.

Closing his eyes, Albus sensed the Magic all around him, his amplified power allowing him to even pinpoint Artyom's presence in the distance, fleeing the caves with Ronald in his arms. But more than that, he sensed something hidden nearby, behind the eerie tree. It was as if all the Magic around him was converging towards a single point, trying to hide something precious from prying eyes. Silently, Albus approached the tree, studying it as he walked around it. These are… roots? Ah… They must belong to the Sacred Tree. This must the link between the Sacred Tree and the Site of Power. Astonishing!

"Albus, what are you doing?" Severus asked, following after the older wizard.

"There is something here," Albus stared at the base of the tree, whereas Snape cocked an eyebrow.

"I see nothing," Severus said, closing his eyes for a moment. "And I sense nothing, either."

"It is hidden by powerful Magic," Albus told him, raising the Elder Wand. "Revelio!"

The Magic suddenly dissipated in different directions, overpowered by Albus' own, and very slowly, a nest of oblong shaped eggs came into view. Albus' eyes widened a little in wonder, whereas Severus sneered in disgust. There's at least a dozen here, and they are an endangered species, especially after what we just did… Destroying these eggs would be a crime against Nature herself-…

"This is… inconvenient," Severus commented, looking to Albus. "But judging from that annoying glint in your eyes, we're sparing them…"

"Not just sparing them, Severus, it is our moral duty to protect them," Albus whispered, letting go of the Earth's power and returning to his normal self. Thank you for your aid once again, old friend. I will repay your kindness by safeguarding these younglings. You have my word.

Albus conjured several vials of an appropriate size with a wave of his wand, and very carefully, placed the eggs inside them until the nest was empty. Then, he placed the Unbreakable Charm on the vials, after which he placed them for safekeeping within his bag full of food and water. I will need to find them a new home. Perhaps the Forbidden Forest? When they have matured a little? It cannot be here, that's for certain. It would be too cruel to make them live where their parents were destroyed. I will think on this later. For now, it is enough that they are safe.

Rising to his feet, Albus walked around the roots again, spotting Severus and William studying them with great care. There was Magic within these roots, but it felt off to Albus… Stale. Diseased. Rotten. Whatever Tom had done to the Sacred Tree, it had happened here. And this is exactly where we can undo it.

"Albus, look," Severus pointed towards the four, shrivelled vines connected to the base of the 'tree'. "The trail ends here."

"Where is the Lady?" William asked them, there was a modicum of fear behind his eyes when he looked upon Albus.

"I do not know," Albus answered, studying the vines. "They are no longer filled with Magic, as if the roots have had their fill."

"The boy severed them before they could, I think," Severus gave his thoughts. "Whatever that Dryad was planning, it ended when her supply of Magic was cut off. Perhaps, she fled?"

"She would never, wizard," William hissed. "For centuries, she has stood vigilant in defence of this land. She would not abandon her duty, now."

"William is correct, Severus, she would not abandon her duty to the Earth," Albus shook his head, thinking. "Dryads are nothing like humans, my friend, despite their appearance. They are, for better or worse, pure in intention. They live to nurture and protect their Great Mother, even at the cost of their own lives."

"Or, at the cost of ours…" Severus remarked, frowning. "Anyone who is only capable of having singular purpose is an easy target for manipulation." True enough. After all, it is always the pure that this world preys upon, first.

"She is here, you two, be on your guard," Albus said, looking around before focusing on the roots again. "I need to see where these vines lead, and for that, I'm going to have to open these roots-"

"What?!" William was immediately appalled by the very notion. "No! You cannot, Albus Dumbledore! I will not allow you to harm the Sacred Tree!"

"Allow?" Severus raised an eyebrow, shooting Albus a quick glance. No, Severus. I've had my fill of violence for today. No more.

"William, I mean the Sacred Tree no harm," Albus promised. "You must trust me, or, the deaths of millions will be on all our heads. I will let you decide."

William looked between the roots and Albus, his grip tightening on his bow. "…I believe you… Do what you must, then…"

"Thank you," Albus smiled, giving the Pukwudgie a nod before turning his attention back to the roots. I will start with a small incision at the base, and then work my way up from there. I must be careful, or, I'll cause even more damage.

Drawing in a sharp breath, Albus focused his mind and made the first cut with his wand. Slowly, he moved his wand upwards, slicing through the first layer of the roots with relative ease. They released a putrid smell, and black sap oozed out of them, sizzling and leaving scorch marks wherever they landed.

"Step back, both of you," Albus quickly advised. "Severus, what is this? Give me your best guess."

"It feels the same as those crystals outside… Dark, but natural," Severus answered, shooting a look back towards the shattered, obsidian gate. "Albus, this doesn't feel like a Curse to me, anymore. Whatever is doing this, it's acting like a poison, instead. Like a disease running rampant." He's right. The scent of decay, the errant Magic, those crystals… It's as if the mountain is fighting off an infection, and losing.

Albus continued his work, being even more careful than before. The roots grew even softer the further he cut into the 'tree', the smell evermore foul, until very suddenly, they began to give way to something pushing itself out. Albus immediately backed off, as did the others, their eyes wide in shock and horror as Octavia's slim form flopped out of the tree, covered in the black sap and supporting severe burns. What is the meaning of this?! Why was she-?!

"By all the Gods… The Lady…" William whimpered, his composure cracking as he moved to help her, but Severus quickly pulled the Pukwudgie back.

"Don't touch her, you damn fool!" Severus hissed, before looking towards a befuddled Albus. "What is this?! What was she doing in there?!"

"I… don't know…" Albus just stared at the young Dryad, his eyes widening even more so when he realised that four shrivelled vines were protruding out of her back like Muggle tubes. "Our Magic was being transferred to her; it seems… Why, though? What were the Sages doing?"

The vines suddenly shot out of her back, leaving four gaping wounds in their place, wilting even further as they 'died' from a lack of Magic. Shaking his head clear, Albus used Aguamenti to wash the black sap off of the poor girl, before moving forward to help her.

"Albus, don't," Severus advised, but Albus ignored him.

Instead, he gently pulled the Dryad away from the roots, before inspecting her many wounds. The sap had burned her terribly, much of her green hair had melted and merged with her ashen skin, and her breaths were short and laboured. She was dying, and not even Fawkes' most potent tears could stop that. Whatever that sap was, it was Dark Magic, and she had been exposed to it for far too long. Albus' anger with her betrayal evaporated at the sight of her horrendous injuries, and he felt his heart ache for Asmodeus and William.

"Severus… Go wake up Asmodeus," Albus whispered, swallowing thickly.

"Why?" William questioned, kneeling beside her. "What is on your mind, wizard? Speak!"

"He will want to say goodbye," Albus answered, looking to William. "I am sorry, but her life is coming to an end."

William's eyes widened as his shoulders slumped, tears quickly welling up inside them. "…No…"

Albus quietly opened his pouch, and after some searching, he pulled out a vial of Phoenix Tears. Opening the vial, he brought it to her lips and carefully dripped the tears into her mouth. This will ease her passing, at least. I am so sorry, child, I wish I had more to give you. You deserved better than this. Ever so slowly, as the tears did their work, Octavia's breathing began to steady, and eventually, her ravaged eyes fluttered open. Albus averted his gaze, as did William, for the sap had mostly dissolved them down to her retinas. Gods have mercy…

Wasting no time, Albus cast a full-body Numbing Charm on her, cursing Tom deep within his heart for all the pain he had wrought. He was torn from his thoughts, however, when Octavia let out a raspy hiss, speaking Parseltongue in her delirium. William took her hand in his and pressed it against his forehead, letting out a guttural sob.

"W-Who's there…?" Octavia wheezed. "C-Champion…?" It is a small mercy that Ronald is not here to witness this. He has seen enough horrors as it is.

"No, it is only me…" William let out a meek howl, whilst Albus rose to his feet and took a step back. "I am sorry… I am so sorry… I failed you, Lady-"

"William…" Octavia rasped, sounding more at ease. "My sweet… huntsman…"

"I failed you, again…" William continued to weep, kissing her mangled hand before pressing it into his forehead again. "Forgive me…"

"I saved the S-Sacred… Tree…" Octavia continued, utterly disconnected from reality. "The Sages… showed m-me… the way…"

Albus winced internally, whilst William let out another sob, both of them looking towards the approaching Severus and Asmodeus. The Headmaster of Ilvermorny, who had been scowling at Severus, froze in place the moment his gaze landed on Octavia. His eyes expressed disbelief for several seconds, before finally, he took small, shaky steps forward, kneeling beside her in utter silence.

"Why, Lady?" William croaked, while Asmodeus simply stared at her with vacant eyes and a jarred expression. "Why did you listen to those Creatures?"

"I am the guardian… of t-this land…" she coughed, blood pushing itself past her black lips. "I saved the tree…" Her mind is broken from the ordeal. The Sages… They used her, just as they used us. Damn them!

"But you didn-" William started.

"You did it, Octavia…" Asmodeus cut in, his voice low and weak. "You saved the tree, and this land." Asmodeus…

"F-Father…?" Octavia grasped for air. "You're here…"

"I am, little sprout," Asmodeus stroked her cheek, his expression unchanged.

"I saved the tree…" she repeated, much weaker this time. "The Sages are w-wise… I saved us… with their help…"

Asmodeus' lips quivered, and Albus was astounded by his former pupil's strength in the face of such needless loss. He continued stroking the Dryad's cheek to comfort her, forcing his own heartbreak from being revealed, all the while listening to his daughter praise her murderers. Albus found himself feeling a lot less guilty for destroying the Sages entirely, now. Ronald was right, they cared only for themselves. This world is a better place without them in it.

"I-Is the Champion… with you…? His f-friends?" Octavia suddenly asked, bringing Albus back to grim reality. "I t-took their Magic… and gave it… to the t-tree… I saved it…"

"They're safe…" Asmodeus managed, shaking. "We're all safe, thanks to you."

"Such an ancient p-power…" she continued, awe mixing in with her delirium. "Beautiful, and terrifying… He is a marvel…" She began coughing again, more blood shooting out of her mouth, before abruptly stopping. "I… can't… see…"

Octavia became perfectly still after that, having taken her final breath. Albus bowed his head at her loss, clenching his fists when Asmodeus let out a blood-curdling wail, pulling her into his embrace so tight that Albus feared he'd break her bones. For many minutes, the only sound within the chamber were the sounds of William and Asmodeus mourning. Neither Albus nor Severus interrupted them, standing over them in silence. Severus appeared distant, and knowing him all too well, Albus figured that he'd already pushed this wretched memory deep into the recesses of his mind, never to be visited again.

Asmodeus suddenly moved, lifting Octavia's body in his arms and cradling her against his chest. Without uttering a word, he simply walked away with her, with William following at his heel.

"We're not done here yet," Severus spoke up, and Asmodeus stopped. "What of the tree?"

Asmodeus turned around, his teary eyes vacant and bloodshot. He just stared at them, through them, before turning back around and walking away in complete silence. Very well, then. We will do what we can, my friend. Mourn her, and then bury her, so that her seed is not lost. May her next life be longer and more prosperous.

"Now, what?" Severus asked, walking over to Albus. "When the boy learns of her death… Albus, he'll lose more of his soul."

"…I know…" Albus nodded, resigned. "She did not deserve such an end."

"Those blasted Sages," Severus growled, looking towards Albus' pouch. "We ought to destroy those eggs before it's too late. They are vile Creatures, Albus, and showing them mercy now will only hurt us down the line."

"Perhaps…" Albus started, drawing in a shaky breath. "But they deserve the chance to prove us wrong, Severus."

"You foolish-"

"Severus, please," Albus sighed out. "I understand your point, their nature is far too much like our own, and yet… I cannot do what you're asking me to do. We all deserve a chance… We are not saving them only for their sake, but also for our own. Please, try to understand that." Even when the odds are against us, we all deserve the opportunity to do better. I have to believe that the next generation can learn from the previous' mistakes. I have to.

"Good luck explaining this to Ron, then," Severus said bitterly, shaking his head and walking away towards the roots.

"He is not animal, Severus," Albus followed. "Despite his recent actions, he follows a strict code. He will not blame unborn children for the actions of their parents. You will see."

"Or, he'll knock your teeth in," Severus shot a dark look back, as if he wanted to do the same in this moment. Yes, that is also a possibility, but I have faith in him. "Now, what do we do about this tree? It's over, Albus. It's rotten down to the core. Even if we lift this 'Curse', and I'm no longer sure that's the case, this tree needs to be purged. Basic rule of Herbology; you remove the dying plants before their rot spreads. It's only a matter of time before that entire forest dies, along with the Sacred Tree."

"Such insidious work…" Albus pinched the bridge of his nose, thinking of a young Tom sitting alone in his orphanage room, smiling only when Albus shared the knowledge of Magic with him. I should have left you there when I discovered your trophies. Time and time again, I ignored all the signs, and now, here I am… A foolish old man trying to save what little can be saved from your corruption.


"Forgive me, Severus, my mind wanders," Albus cleared his thoughts, before approaching the roots. "Stand back, I'm going to cut deeper and try to discover the source of this disease."

"Just be careful," Severus said, looking over his shoulder.

Albus continued where he had left off, carving his way all the way towards the centre of the 'tree', where he was met with a most bizarre discovery. Amidst the roots was a blackened wand, and even without desiring to, Albus could sense Lord Voldemort's Magic all over it. It felt malicious in intent, a cobra ready to strike an unsuspecting prey, and Albus quickly deduced that this tainted wand was the source of the corruption.

"Severus, what do you think?" Albus shot a look back, only to see his friend wide-eyed in horror at what he was seeing. He knows what this is? How?

"Don't. Touch. It," Severus warned ominously, pulling Albus back by his arm and taking his place. "Be quiet. I need to focus." I… I didn't even say anything. What is this?

Severus waved his wand and muttered several incantations, many of which even Albus didn't recognize, before taking a step back himself. "The Sacred Tree has to die. There's no other option left to us, Albus. Either it dies, or, everyone else does."

"What? Severus, please, explain yourself," Albus muttered, looking between him and the tainted wand. "Why is there a wand in there? Who does it belong to?"

"I've no idea, nor do I care at this point," Severus said darkly. "I've sensed this Curse before, Albus. It is indeed of the Dark Lord's making… One of his deadliest, in fact. When I was still his lackey, there was a Russian Curse-Breaker who slighted the Dark Lord, claiming that his knowledge on Curses rivalled the Dark Lord's own… Stupid man… The Dark Lord asked me to bring him a bracelet, something a young girl would fancy, and when I delivered it, he placed a Curse upon it that I had never seen before. The Dark Lord then sent the bracelet to the Curse-Breaker's young daughter, a girl of fifteen, and she wore it thinking it a gift from a secret admirer. Within two days, she was dead, despite the Curse-Breaker's best efforts."

"Ivan Popov? Russia's famous Curse-Breaker?" Albus asked, remembering the story vaguely. "He committed suicide after his daughter was taken by a sickness during the Great War."

"It was not a sickness, and yes, he did commit suicide," Severus whispered coolly. "The Russian Pureblood families learned a simple truth that day… To even question the Dark Lord's power was to covet death, and to issue him a challenge would lead to the end of your entire family."

"Merlin's Beard," Albus shook his head, even Gellert was not capable of such cruelty. "To murder a child over such a petty reason."

"The lives of others have no meaning to him, as we both already know," Severus said simply, staring at the wand. "Whoever that wand belongs to, for whatever reason it's in there in the first place, none of it matters… Even I could not learn to undo this specific Curse, Albus, despite my best efforts. It rots away a person from the inside, turning their skin necrotic and their blood foul. All I can do is try to delay the Curse's effects, but I doubt that'll do much good. Sooner rather than later, the Curse will spread, and unlike the Sacred Tree, ordinary plants will have no power to delay its influence."

"And if it reaches further into the Earth? Into the very source of the Site of Power?" Albus asked, and Severus gave him a sombre look. "I see… It will bring about the calamity the Sages warned Ronald of." Or, worse, the calamity Ronald foresaw in Fate's vision. Either way, this cannot be allowed to continue.

"We don't understand how Sites of Power work, nor do we know just how much Magic exists beneath the Earth's surface," Severus added. "All we can know for certain is that if such Dark Magic mixes in with the Earth's Magic, the consequences would be… apocalyptic. Like adding Boomslang Skin to an already volatile potion, only infinitely worse."

"Then, the tree must die," Albus said, and Severus gave a grim nod. "We were supposed to save it, Severus, not kill it…"

"This is not a fairy-tale, Albus," Severus said, stepping away from the roots. "Whatever was going on here with the Sages and Octavia, we came too late. I believe they were trying to buy themselves more time, by giving the tree more life to burn through. Our lives. You, me, even Artyom… We are powerful wizards, and our Magic would have bought the tree quite a bit of time. And as for Ron, he is another creature altogether… Didn't you hear the girl before her death? She called him an ancient power, Albus. A marvel. They wanted to feed Ron to the tree, probably in the hope of overpowering the Curse with his 'ancient power'."

"Fools," Albus frowned deeply. "The power that resides within Ronald is only capable of destruction. He says so himself." And having been subjected to its cruelty myself, I quite agree with him.

"They didn't know that, did they?" Severus pointed out. "To them, he was just a meal to be offered up to their 'Sacred Tree'. A way to escape a Curse they brought upon themselves." Desperation and hubris… A deadly cocktail, indeed.

"What tragedy…" Albus shot a look back at the obsidian gate, thinking of Octavia's horrid and untimely death. "We cannot lose Ronald to wicked influences as Asmodeus lost Octavia… Promise me, Severus. We will not ignore the boy when he is in need of guidance."

Severus said nothing, merely giving a short nod with a distant expression. Then, let us put an end to this. Albus approached the roots again, scanning the wand and sensing the vile Magic coursing through it. Severus is right, the Dark Magic within the wand has already infected the roots, and if given enough time, it will spread throughout the land, carried by the Magic from the Site of Power. How odd… Tom's evil continues to surprise me still, even after years of opposing him. He has no limitations; I must not forget that.

"I will remove the source of the corruption, Severus," Albus said, drawing in a deep breath as he focused his mind. "I believe that, once the source is removed, the Site of Power will be able to combat the infection much more easily. I will also sever these roots in order to stop the infection from spreading downwards. What are your thoughts?"

"Give me a moment," Severus answered, conjuring a Warded pouch with a wave of his wand. "Here, be sure to deposit the wand into this, so that I can study it further afterwards. As for the roots, I suggest burning them instead. Kill the infection at the source, as it were." Very well, then.

"If our plan goes awry, be ready to run for safety," Albus advised.

"Naturally," Severus said dryly.

Using the Severing Charm with surgical precision, Albus began by separating the smaller roots which had burrowed themselves into the wand, until eventually, it began to come loose. Albus then cast the Levitation Charm upon the wand, slowly freeing it from its confines until it was floating in the air before him.

"Severus, the pouch," Albus instructed. "Open it wide, and watch your fingers, please."

Severus did as he was told, keeping the pouch open as Albus began depositing the wand inside. The small pouch, Enchanted with the Undetectable Extension Charm, swallowed the wand entirely, its painted Wards flashing green and blue before returning to their natural black state. Severus quickly closed the pouch, tucking it into his robes and giving Albus a nod. Now, to burn away the infection.

"Severus, start making your way out," Albus said, tightening his grip on his wand. "We don't know what will happen-"

Albus stopped abruptly when he saw the base of the roots begin to crack, blue, fog-like light seeping out of the growing cracks, which suddenly travelled upwards at an alarming speed. The Earth began to shake beneath their feet, as a volcano would before an eruption, and Albus was taken aback when Severus roughly yanked him away from the roots by his arm.

"Run, you damn fool!" Severus barked, both men bolting towards the remains of the obsidian gate. "Curse my fucking leg! What new disaster is this?!"

"Don't stop, Severus! Just run for your life!" Albus yelled over the rumbling Earth, shooting a quick glance back.

The roots were entirely engulfed in pulsating, blue, fog-like light, and Albus got the sinking feeling that they had tampered with a power far beyond human imagination. Looking ahead once again, Albus picked up the pace, swiftly outrunning the maimed Potions Master. We won't make it out in time! It's impossible!

They made their way past the collapsed gate, and into the putrid caves, with Severus quickly falling behind even more so. Albus stopped and turned to face him, fear etched upon his face when he saw that the blue light was spreading out of the chamber, as if trying to chase them. Severus! Hurry!

"Don't stop for me, damn you!" Severus snapped, sweating and gritting his teeth. "Just go! Leave me and go!"

"Never!" Albus ran back towards the man, taking him by the shoulder and putting most of his weight onto himself. "Just keep moving!"

"What are you doing?!" Severus hissed, struggling with his injured leg. "Albus, stop! Save yourself-!"

"You and Ronald will not die before me," Albus spoke more to himself than to Severus. "I will not allow it!"

"What is wrong with you-?!"

"Just move, Severus!" Albus ordered, reaching the narrow passageway which was lined with Dark Crystals.

They managed only a few more feet before the blue light shot past them with the strength of a hurricane, sending them both flying forward. However, just as they were about to land, they were both stopped in mid-air, as if an invisible force had seized them. What is happening?! What did we do?! Albus took the chance to look around wildly, his eyes growing to the size of dinner plates when he saw the Dark Crystals pulsating with blue light before crumbling into dust, leaving the cave walls free of corruption.

"Albus? What is this?" Severus asked, the fear in his voice was unmistakable.

"I… I don't know…" Albus admitted, struggling to even speak. "I believe that the Earth is fighting off the infection, now that the source of it has been removed."

"Forget the bloody Earth! What's happening to us?!" Severus demanded. "I can't move!"

Just ahead of them, an excess of blue, fog-like light began to seep out of the ground, taking the shape of a giant, ethereal humanoid with an elongated, flame-shaped head. Albus and Severus both felt as they had swallowed their tongues, speechlessly staring at the terrifying wonder before them. The blue, misty figure 'stared' back at them with a featureless face, for what felt like eons, before returning back into the Earth without a word. By the fucking Gods… What was that?!

Just as Albus and Severus exchanged jarred looks, the invisible force let go of them, dropping them both face-first onto the cold ground. Ow… My nose… Severus was quick to shoot up to his feet, helping Albus up before looking around like a madman.

"Did you see that?!" Severus panted, trembling. "What was that thing?!"

"I have no earthly idea, my boy," Albus managed, his heart beating in his throat. "Wait… The ground… It trembles no longer. It's just… stopped."

They both looked around in silence, eyeing the harmless dust that the Dark Crystals had been reduced to, before exchanging one more jarred look between themselves. That was… amazing! Absolutely astonishing! This world… It's so full of wonder-!

"We should leave," Severus whispered, still sounding shaken to his core. "Now, Albus!" Oh, of course… That should be the priority here. I can wonder about what we just saw later. Merlin, in all my years… What a fascinating turn of events…

Tuesday 30th March, 1994 (Ilvermorny – Late Night)

Albus, Severus, and Brightbeak watched silently as William and Asmodeus lowered Octavia's shrouded body into a shallow grave beside the wilting Sacred Tree, with Albus bowing his head once more in respect. Within a few days, a flower would blossom from Octavia's body, one containing her seed, which would then be buried once again in order to bring about her next incarnation. Albus had only ever heard stories about the rebirths of Dryads, but now that he was witnessing one for himself, it appeared a lot less glorious and a lot more sombre than he had pictured. Poor girl, to meet such an ugly end at the hands of those she looked to for guidance. What will I tell Ronald? Gods, help me…

As Asmodeus began to cover Octavia's concealed form with dirt, Brightbeak threw his head back and let out a pained screech, causing thunder to boom in the stormy clouds above them. William moved to the Thunderbird's side, silently stroking his fine feathers in an effort to comfort him, whereas Asmodeus continued his work alone. The pale, skeletal man looked like a ghost, now, his eyes empty and his expression hollow. Albus' heart ached for his friend's loss, and he desperately wished to comfort Asmodeus, but he understood that nothing he could say would lessen the pain of losing a child. First, Awena, and now, Octavia… Once again, the Gods needlessly punish the good and kind-hearted…

They all waited for Asmodeus to finish, and once he had, he simply kneeled before the grave and sat motionless for several seconds before speaking. "Leave… All of you… I wish to be alone with her…"

Severus looked to Albus, who merely shook his head at the man. Not now, Severus-…

"What of the Sacred Tree?" William asked, tiredly eyeing its cracked bark and wilting branches. "Harkin, it's dead, and before long, the remaining leaves will fall-"

"When they do, I'll collect them," Asmodeus said simply, his voice barely more than a whisper. "Leave me… I neglected her in life, but I won't make that mistake in death… Just go…"

Brightbeak suddenly moved forward, kneeling down beside the Headmaster of Ilvermorny. Asmodeus shot him a subtle glance, but said nothing to challenge the Thunderbird's decision to join him on his vigil. Severus turned and left without wasting another moment, and soon enough, William followed after him. Albus remained, however, feeling the urge to say something, anything, that could bring some comfort to the mourning man.

"Asmodeus…" Albus spoke up, feeling wretched. "I am sorry for your loss."

Asmodeus said nothing in response, and after staring at his back for several more moments, Albus also turned and walked away. Even when he heard Asmodeus weeping in the dark, Albus kept walking, until eventually, he caught up with Severus and William in the forest.

"What happened down there, Albus Dumbledore?" William demanded, shooting Severus a hateful look. "Your pet refuses to answer me!" Because we both decided that whatever we saw down there, whatever that Being was, it's best left undisturbed. Some secrets should remain a mystery to men, for our own good.

"We found the source of the corruption, and when we removed it, the Site of Power restored itself to its former glory," Albus answered, though this was only his best guess. "The Sacred Tree was not a part of its original design, and so, it too was purged. This land will continue to be prosperous, life will continue to thrive, but it will be without the Sacred Tree. I'm sorry, William, I know I gave you my word."

"You couldn't have known what would transpire, despite your knowledge and power… The Great Mother does not discriminate, for she is as destructive as she is creative…" William grumbled, still sounding bothered despite his forgiving words. Is that what we saw tonight? An Avatar of her will? I need a drink… "What was this source of corruption you mentioned?"

"A wand tainted with Dark Magic," Albus answered, and William immediately stopped. "What is it?"

"A wand, you say…" William muttered under his breath, and both Albus and Severus gave a nod. "Let me see it."

"It's dangerous," Severus frowned. "No."

"Do as he asks, Severus," Albus instructed, ever curious to know more. "Perhaps, he can identify its origin?"

Severus pulled out the Warded pouch hesitantly, opening it for Albus to use the Levitation Charm on the wand within. Once the tainted wand was presented to William, the Pukwudgie drew in a shaky breath as familiarity flashed behind his baggy eyes. He knows… He knows who this wand belonged to!

"That wand once belonged to Isolt herself," William told them, much to their surprise. "A long time ago, I remember seeing it in her hand. Oh, the wonders she could do with it… It stopped working, however, after-…" he stopped abruptly. "After an evil woman came for Isolt and her children. She and I buried it together, and with it, her past. Why was it down there? And what's wrong with it? It smells… rotten… Like a carcass forgotten and left out in the sun."

"We found it at the heart of the roots," Albus informed William, who blinked in confusion. "And as for what's wrong with it…"

"It was Cursed by the Dark Lord," Severus finished. "This specific Curse… It has no counter to it. At least, not yet, but I will work tirelessly to find one. What happened here… It can't happen again. Anywhere."

"At last, we find common ground, Potions Master," William gave a short nod, staring at the wand with a hint of sadness. "He tainted her memory, the monster…"

"It is all he can do," Albus said simply, staring at the floating wand. "Evil only thrives through the corruption of what is good."

"He's still out there, isn't he?" William asked them, and neither of them bothered to deny it. "Villainous bastard… Promise me, then, Headmaster of Hogwarts, that when the day finally arrives for his deserved downfall, you will call upon me to stand by your side. I am old, I know this, but I-"

"I will call upon you, I swear it," Albus stopped William, smiling weakly as he gave the Pukwudgie's bony shoulder a squeeze. "Goodbye for now, William, and remember what we discussed about your people. Don't give up on them yet."

William nodded, a glint of hope creeping into his tired eyes. "I won't, Albus Dumbledore. Thank you, for my life and the life of this land. Ilvermorny owes you a debt it can never repay. You, and the boy who set all of this in motion."

The Champion's POV

Dream Hogwarts

The Champion stepped out of the shadows and into the colourless courtyard, cocking an eyebrow at the swirling colours surrounding the Entity's Hourglass and the castle itself. This is new. I wonder what's going on here. Silently, he made his way over to the Entity's prison, sneering hatefully at the black blob inside, his pale eyes clashing against the crimson, toad-like one at the centre of the dark mass.

"Enjoying yourself, are you?" the Champion hissed, and the Entity growled menacingly in response. "You and I are long overdue for a conversation, but first…"

The Champion walked around the Hourglass, spotting the fading form of Ravenclaw Ron a few feet away, illuminated by the colours swirling around the closed castle. What a shame, he looks dead. I certainly hope that's not the case, seeing as he still has his uses to me. The Champion approached his ghostly counterpart, using his foot to shake the sleeping fool.

"Get up," the Champion ordered, but his voice fell on deaf ears. Ugh… Fine, you asked for it.

Pulling his leg back, the Champion smashed his heel into Ravenclaw Ron's ribs, who jerked awake with a wheeze, curling into a ball. "…Why?"

"I tried being gentle," the Champion shrugged, frowning. "It didn't work."

"You could've tried again," Ravenclaw Ron coughed out, struggling to get off the ground. "…That really hurt…"

"Weakling," the Champion felt the urge to kick him again, but instead, he grabbed Ravenclaw Ron by the collar and yanked him up to his feet. "You fucking swine… I needed your help, and you didn't show up! Give me one reason as to why I shouldn't tear you apart right now!"

"…Fine… There…" Ravenclaw Ron pointed towards the castle, gritting his teeth. "I managed to stop them… from getting in… Those colours are Wards…" They are?

"What sort of Wards?" the Champion asked, loosening his grip a little. "Explain yourself! Tell me what happened!"

"It was too much for me," Ravenclaw Ron panted, wincing when the Champion squeezed his neck again. "Their assault on your mind, it felt like a ton of bricks pushing down on me. I couldn't lose my focus, but even then, they nearly got through. I used every ounce of my strength to put up those Wards, making sure they never saw the full extent of your experiences. I even hid the World-Eater from them, in fear of what those fools would try if they spoke to it. After their initial trespass, you must've felt entirely empty to them… A man without memories, or, even feelings… That was because of me… I saved your mind…" Empty, he says? Is that where I got my latest moniker from? "I did right by you… Now, please… Let me go…"

The Champion loosened his grip, before taking Ravenclaw Ron by the arm and helping him towards a nearby bench. His doppelganger flopped onto the bench with a tired groan, coughing and rubbing his sore ribs. I would feel sorry for hurting him, but honestly, he deserves far worse, the demented cunt.

"What sort of Wards are these?" the Champion asked, shooting a look towards the Entity's Hourglass. "Did you learn these from that evil fuck over there?"

"…Yes," Ravenclaw Ron answered, averting his gaze slightly. "And here, I was expecting a hug and a kiss for my efforts… Figures…"

"Don't sass me," the Champion warned, his eyes flashing red. "I've had a bad fucking day, and I might kill you yet. They still got enough to fuck with me, and then, they confirmed my theory. I'm… I'm a fucking Horcrux! Fuck! Mother of all fuck!" The Champion suddenly began pacing, shooting murderous glances towards the Entity as he pulled at his hair. "That cunt did this to me! It had to! This whole time, it's known that I would have to die to complete my mission! That's why it's so fucking arrogant, even after being trapped! It thinks it has me in checkmate, but no… Oh, no… I won't just fucking die like some bitch cunt fucker! I've changed my mind… I'm going to live! I'm going to win this whole fucking thing! Fate, Death, all the Elders… Even Dream, that smug little prick! I'll beat them all! I'm Ronald fucking Weasley, and I don't lose! One way, or, another, I always come out on top! It's just a matter of time with me! Just a matter of fucking time!"

Ravenclaw Ron watched the Champion silently, shrinking from his deranged tone and manic expression. They think they all have me, haha! But no, I'll beat them! I'll trick them! I'll do whatever the fuck it takes to have the final laugh! Me! A mortal man spitting in the faces of the Gods! They will regret the day they set their eyes upon me! I'm a bigger cunt than any of them could ever hope to be! And I'll show them! I will show them all what happens when you press me into a corner! Fuck giving up! Fuck dying meekly like a rodent! Fuck everything and everyone!

"Mate… Why don't you sit down for a moment?" Ravenclaw Ron suggested, but the Champion continued his erratic pacing. "Try your breathing exercises, at least."

"The Sages gave me a taste of what life could be like without all this madness," the Champion continued, speaking more to himself than to Ravenclaw Ron. "I want it, and whatever I want, I get! A fucking Horcrux… Does it think that's enough to stop me?! Stupid bastard! I beat you once, I can do it again!"

"Really losing your mind there, aren't you?" Ravenclaw Ron muttered, and the Champion suddenly stopped. "Oh, shit… I was just taking the piss-"

"Be quiet," the Champion hissed, looking towards the Entity's prison. "Undo your Wards, I want to talk to it. There's something I need to say to that motherfucker."

"Is that wise?" Ravenclaw Ron asked. "In my experience, conversations with the World-Eater rarely end well."

"I'll be the one doing the talking," the Champion growled, shooting his doppelganger a terrifying look. "Undo them, now."

"You're the boss," Ravenclaw Ron sighed out, standing up and stretching his arms forwards.

The ground began to quake slightly, and Ravenclaw Ron's eyes rolled back into his skull. The Champion felt the pressure in the still air around him rise exponentially, before the colours suddenly began charging for Ravenclaw Ron, rushing into the sleeves of his jacket and the bottom of his trousers. The sizzling sound of one being branded could be heard as Ravenclaw Ron grinned from ear to ear, his rolled back eyes fluttering as he were enjoying the pain. Soon enough, the courtyard was once again without colour, save for the Entity's evil eye behind the Hourglass.

"Bloody hell," Ravenclaw Ron let out a long sigh as his eyes rolled back ahead, he was no longer fading and appeared just as solid as the Champion himself. "That feels so much better! I'm back, baby!" Brilliant… "Should I prime it up for you? A teensy bit of torture? What do you say? It'll cheer you up."

"You can have your fun after I'm done," the Champion said, before making his way over to the Hourglass and banging his fist against it. "Oi! Fuckstain! You think you're so clever, don't you?!"

"Champion…" the Entity rasped, the goop rising up like a serpent with its demonic eye at the top. "You sound upset…"

"You turned me into a Horcrux!" the Champion hissed, feeling murderous at the mere mention of the word. "Admit it!"

"We did no such thing," the Entity 'laughed', sending a shiver up the Champion's spine. "It was the Lord of Serpents who wronged you so. We merely seized an opportunity, nothing more."

"Tell me what happened!"

"No," the Entity taunted, much to the Champion's chagrin. "We have won already, little Godling. Little parasite! You will die, and We will claim you, as We have claimed all the rest. Nothing can change your fate. It is written upon every star, upon every grain of sand. You will die, and We will feast!"

"Feast…" the Champion felt dread fill his very being, but he didn't show it. "You want a feast, do you? Here, start with a drink!"

Undoing his belt, the Champion pulled down his trousers and aimed his cock at the hourglass. Ravenclaw Ron let out a maniacal laugh, while the Entity screeched in anger, smashing itself against the glass. The Champion began pissing all over it, his eyes flashing red as he grinned maliciously.

"This, right here, is all you're getting from me!" the Champion mocked, glad that he could still take a piss in this place. "You, the Elders, Voldemort… I'll piss on you all! I will beat you! And when you return to your Star, you'll have to live for all eternity with one simple truth! That a mortal man stood before you with his cock out, and you couldn't do a fucking thing about it! You're my bitch, don't you ever forget that!"

Once he had drained every last drop, the Champion fixed up his trousers, ignoring the Entity's threats and screams as he walked back to Ravenclaw Ron, who was still laughing like a lunatic.

"Have your fun," the Champion said, shooting a dark look back at the raging Entity. "It's not going to explain a fucking thing, not to me. I'll have to ask Fate for answers, it seems."

"You are a fucking madman," Ravenclaw Ron wheezed, wiping a tear from his eye. "Of all the Rons… Fucking hell, you're something else entirely!" Well, I'm glad one of us is having fun… I'm so fucked…

Ravenclaw Ron suddenly waved his hand, and the urine staining the hourglass and the cobblestone vanished momentarily, before reappearing inside the hourglass and washing over the Entity. HA! The Champion couldn't help but laugh, despite the mountain of stress of his shoulders, joining his ghostly counterpart in his childish glee.

"Oh… That was gold…" Ravenclaw Ron eventually sighed out, before letting out a small chuckle. "Now, let me give you a show, eh? I've been practising, and not to brag, but I've gotten pretty good at making it scream."

"Really?" the Champion cocked an eyebrow, looking back to the Hourglass. "Go on, then. This should be good!"

Following after Ravenclaw Ron, the Champion sat down on his arse a few feet away from the Hourglass, grinning in anticipation. Sure, his problems had just gotten more numerous and much more complicated, but he was resolved to defeat them all. He would discover a method to undo the Dark Lord's Magic. He would escape the Entity. He would find some way to ruin Fate's plans. He would get the last laugh, no matter what. It's only a matter of time with me… I always win! Always!

As Ravenclaw Ron summoned golden, wingless mini-dragons inside the Hourglass, who promptly attacked the howling Entity, tearing chunks away from the black blob and slamming it around its prison, the Champion began formulating his newest scheme. A scheme more ambitious than any he had concocted so far. Fate… She'll be my queen on the board, now, I think. I've made pieces of everyone I've ever come across, so why should she be any different? I'll give her exactly what she wants, until the opportunity presents itself for me to take whatever I want from her. I am nobody's slave, and I will carve that truth into her very being by the end.

Tuesday 30th March, 1994 (Death's Hand Safehouse – Near Midnight)

The Champion stirred, slowly opening his eyes and taking in his surroundings. He was inside his room at the safehouse once again, lying on a sheetless mattress. Groaning, the Champion sat up, rubbing his eyes clear before sliding off of the mattress. I wonder what became of the Sages… Merlin, I hope they're dead. I'd hate to have to go all the way back inside that mountain.

The door of his room suddenly opened, and Artyom stepped inside with a clean set of sheets, surprised to see the Champion on his feet already. "You should not be up so soon."

"Sleep is for the weak," the Champion smirked, glad to see Artyom in one piece. "I take it that you and the others solved the mountain's mystery? And what of the Sages? Are they dead?"

"I do not know," Artyom answered after a moment, walking over to the bed and tossing the sheets onto it. What?

"What do you mean you don't know?" the Champion lost his smirk. For fuck's sake! Is everyone just useless?! Do I have to do everything myself?!

"I carried you back," Artyom answered. "Dumbledore ordered it. You were hurt. I chose to listen, and left others behind."

"You left them behind?" the Champion drew in a deep breath, his temper flaring. "You left the Headmaster unprotected?"

"He is Albus Dumbledore," Artyom answered simply. "He did not need protection. You did. He is not client. You are."

"We have to go back for them," the Champion fought off the urge to murder the Russian giant on the spot. "Where are my damn wands?!"

"On table," Artyom pointed, and the Champion quickly grabbed them both, finally realizing that he was wearing his pyjamas. "What the…? Did you undress me?"

"You wet bed," Artyom said bluntly, and the Champion felt his ears turn red. "No shame. You were hurt. Sages attacked your mind." No, I don't think that's why I wet the bed… Note to self, don't ever take a piss in Dream Hogwarts. Bloody hell…

"Of course, there's no shame in it…" the Champion cleared his throat and scoffed, hiding his embarrassment. "Man gets mind-raped by a bunch of Magical snakes, there's bound to be repercussions, right? But saying that, if you ever tell anyone about this, I'll stab you in your potato-munching face. Got it?"

"No need for rudeness," Artyom frowned at him. "I will not speak of it."

"Good… Good," the Champion shot Artyom a quick glance. "Just um… Give me a few minutes to get ready, yeah?"

"No," Artyom refused. Huh?!

"You want to watch me change?" the Champion looked to Artyom in absolute disgust. "What? One look wasn't enough for you?" Damn pervert-…

"Stop being idiot," Artyom growled, his large hands curling into fists. "You will not be going anywhere. You will rest, or, I will tie you to bed. You are reckless, impatient, and too angry. You will listen to me."

"You don't understand," the Champion pinched his nose, frustrated. "The Sages gave me vital information before they attacked me. Information that could help the Headmaster-" The sudden sound of footsteps emanating from downstairs stopped the Champion short, and both he and Artyom looked towards the door. "Um… Who else knows about this safehouse, Artyom?"

"Stay here," Artyom ordered, drawing his wand and heading for the door. "I will check alone."

"Fuck off with that," the Champion scoffed, following after the large man with both wands at the ready. "If it's not the Headmaster, we use stunners only. Got it? The last thing we need is the Death's Hand getting pissy with us-"

"It is not Death's Hand," Artyom suddenly said, sheathing his wand. "It's Dumbledore. They're back." Oh, thank fuck!

Moving past Artyom, the Champion quickly made his way downstairs, finding the Headmaster and Snape standing about in the living room. They're both safe! That's a good sign, right?

"Headmaster… Professor Snape," the Champion greeted, walking over as he inspected their dirtied clothes. "You're all right… I take it that the Sages are dead? And the Curse is broken?" Snape averted his gaze, tightening his hold on a strange pouch in his left hand, whereas the Headmaster just stared at the Champion, as if struggling to speak. "What's the matter? What happened down there?"

"Severus, can you put the kettle on, please?" Dumbledore all but whispered, and Snape didn't waste even a second in leaving the room. Okay… "Ronald, come and sit with me. There's much I need to tell you."

"Severus and I managed to escape in time, and after witnessing Octavia being laid to rest, we returned here," Dumbledore finished, studying the Champion's blank expression for any insight into what he was feeling. "Ronald? Are you listening?"

The Champion just stared back at the man in silence, his mind feeling lethargic from the loss of Octavia, someone he had grown quite fond of quite quickly. Why was he even surprised that everything had gone to ruin? It was a recurring theme in his life, in the lives of all those who put others before themselves, and yet, the pain of her loss still cut deeply. She was naïve to trust the Sages, yes, but she was also kind and full of love, and knowing that her better nature had been used against her in such a manner filled the Champion with venomous hatred for the dead Sages. Octavia had deserved better than to be used as a mere sacrifice, and she had certainly deserved better than the help of a bitter and hateful thing like him.

And then, there was the loss of the Sacred Tree as well, which felt like salt and lemon being rubbed into his fresh wounds. We couldn't even keep our bloody promise, in the end… She died for nothing… Maybe, if I hadn't interrupted the Sages' plan, things might've-… No. No, they deserved to die for what they did. They were selfish and cruel, and they murdered her just to save their own skins. All she fucking wanted was to protect her home, and they used her like her life meant nothing. Fuck… I wish I had killed them myself, with my own fucking hands!

"Ronald, speak to me," Dumbledore urged, looking worried.

"…What's there to say…?" the Champion managed, feeling his throat ache. "Did… Did she suffer? In the end?"

Dumbledore hesitated. "No." Liar…

"Can I see this tainted wand you found?" the Champion asked, bottling up his emotions and moving on. I'll visit her tomorrow morning. Pay my respects. It's the least I can do, considering how badly I let her down.

"Perhaps, we should talk about this further-" Dumbledore tried.

"I don't want to," the Champion cut him off, deciding to just move on. "Good people die, and cunts continue to prosper. This is just more of the same…"

"Ronald… You cannot think like that-"

"Just stop," the Champion raised his hand, feeling bile creep up his throat. "I don't want-… Please, just leave it…" She deserved better, but this Universe doesn't care about what you deserve… If you want something, you just take it. Fuck this Universe! "Show me the wand, I want to see it."

Snape exchanged glances with Dumbledore, before opening the Warded pouch and levitating the wand onto the coffee table. The Champion stared at the blackened wand, just being in its presence made him feel twice as wretched as before, and he felt the urge to reduce it to ash via Reducto. So, this is it, then. Salazar's wand built specifically for Healing Magic. I wonder what he'd think if knew what his Heir did to his legacy.

"It belonged to Isolt Sayre, according to the Pukwudgie," Snape said, his expression unreadable.

"It is evil," Artyom commented, finally breaking his long silence.

"Indeed," Dumbledore agreed. "Severus will try to find a way to combat the Curse laid upon it, for we are bound to see it again. Lord Voldemort is not one to hold back his most vile Magic, I'm afraid."

"This wand was made by Salazar Slytherin," the Champion said, his voice hollow.

"Pardon?" Dumbledore blinked, while Snape narrowed his eye.

"It was made by Salazar Slytherin," the Champion repeated, unable to stop thinking about Octavia's happy face despite his hardest attempts not to. "Before he vanished from Hogwarts, he came to regret his decisions in life. He crafted a wand specifically for the purpose of healing others, and with it, he hoped to find some sense of redemption. That's why the Sacred Tree's leaves could heal most ailments. It was his will living through them. His Magic."

"And how did you divine such information?" Snape asked, clearly not believing the Champion's words.

"I found his notes in the Chamber a while back, and the Sages told me the rest," the Champion said, rising out of his seat. "You can believe it, or, you can ignore it, I don't care… I just figured you ought to know…"

With that, the Champion began heading for the stairs, eager to gulp down a vial of Calming Draught and continue working on bettering his Occlumency.

"Ronald, wait!" Dumbledore turned in his chair, deeply concerned. "Where are you going?"

"To bed…" the Champion lied, he knew there would be no sleep for him tonight.

"Did the Sages reveal anything else?" Dumbledore asked, and the Champion drew in a shaky breath. "How did they know about you? What did they want from you, specifically?" They wanted to steal the Dark Lord's power from me, the idiots… As if their pathetic Magic could ever hope to challenge his.

"They sensed the Dark Lord's Magic within me," the Champion told them, not caring in the slightest when he saw horror dawn on Dumbledore's face. "I can talk to snakes. I can read and speak Parseltongue. I could never do these things before Voldemort attacked me. Whatever happened to me on that night, it turned me into a Horcrux, and if we're to kill him for good, I'll need to be destroyed too. Same goes for Harry." That is, until I figure out a way to undo this mess. I'm not going to die until I bring this broken world down to its fucking knees. That's a promise.

Dumbledore just sat there, motionless, while Snape's eye widened and his mouth dropped open. Have fun coming to terms with this shit without me. I'm done with this world for tonight.

"Don't disturb me," the Champion said coldly, before heading up the stairs. "Goodnight."

Wednesday 31st March, 1994 (Ilvermorny – Morning)

He had left the safehouse in the early hours of the morning, whilst the house was still devoid of life, making his way to Ilvermorny via floo. Dumbledore and Snape had not disturbed him during the night, thank Merlin, and due to the Calming Draught's wondrous effects, the Champion's grief over Octavia's death had been kept at bay long enough for him to come up with another scheme.

Still, he couldn't help but think of her as he walked through her woods, which were disturbingly quiet, as if mourning her loss as well. He wondered about her hobbies, her likes and dislikes, her favourite foods… Silly things, all of them, and yet, he kept thinking about them. He wished he had gotten to know her better, spent more time with her instead of running away from a misplaced sense of guilt… He had let his emotions cloud his judgement, and she had paid the price for it. If he had been stronger and more decisive, if he had acted like a man and not some ponce, he could've learned of what she was planning and intervened, and instead of paying his respects to her grave as he was now, he could've been visiting her to comfort her over the Sacred Tree's demise.

None of these plaguing thoughts mattered, anymore, of course… All he could do was learn from his mistakes and carry on, for both his sake and everyone else's. It was just a shame that such a pure life had been snuffed out, especially when he could've prevented this outcome had he acted more like a man than a boy. Could've and should've… But no, I acted like a weak cunt, instead, and now, she's dead.

Reaching into his pocket, the Champion pulled out a vial of Calming Draught, taking a long sip from it before pocketing what little remained. The cool potion once again brought with it a sense of clarity and purpose, pushing his regrets and pain to the outskirts of his exhausted mind. His work here was not done yet, and so, he marched on, until eventually, he found himself standing at the edge of an open field full of animals of all nature. He watched them silently, the birds and the bears and the foxes and the deer, all of them staring off into the distance, towards the dead snakewood tree and the man who was kneeling before it.

This was a funeral, and he got the feeling that he was not welcome here.

Ignoring his better judgement, however, the Champion walked past the animals, ignoring them just as they ignored him, until he stood behind Harkin, staring down at the man with an unfeeling expression.

"I figured you'd come…" Harkin whispered, his voice raspy and weak. "The 'God'… The 'Beginning and the End'… Tell me, boy, are you pleased with yourself? Are you finally content now that you've helped set us free from our Curse?"

"No," the Champion answered. "And yes."

Harkin chuckled coldly, before rising up on shaky legs and turning to face the Champion, his face gaunt and marred by dry tear tracks. "You are an evil man, Ronald Weasley. She couldn't see it, because she was gentle and pure of heart, but I do. I see it as clear as day-"

"It wasn't me who neglected her to the point of driving her to the Sages," the Champion said simply, not afraid to speak his mind. "Don't throw your failure in my face, Harkin. As far as I'm concerned, you played a far bigger role in her death than me."

"Damn you…" Harkin hissed, his hands clenching into trembling fists.

"Are you going to hit me?" the Champion asked, ready to bury another body if need be. "You could certainly try, but I promise you, it won't end well for you."

Harkin just stared at him, blinking. "What's wrong with you? You sound… strange…"

"I've had copious amounts of Calming Draught," the Champion answered honestly, pulling out the vial in his pocket. "There's still some left. Do you want it? It will help with the pain in your head, just as it helped me with mine."

Harkin exhaled, looking the Champion up and down, studying his immaculate, black suit and polished shoes with scrutiny. "…You are the Devil…"

"Insulting me won't change what's happened," the Champion said, pocketing the vial once again. "Despite her untimely death, those who tricked her have been brought to justice and the Curse is broken. She wanted to save this land, and now, it's safe."

"Safe?" Harkin sneered, pointing towards the dead snakewood tree. "Does that look safe to you?!"

"That tree died the moment the Dark Lord set his eyes upon the source of its power," the Champion replied. "Don't act like I killed it, even if it helps you cope with your loss. I don't enjoy being blamed for other people's actions. This happened on your watch, right under your nose, and what did you do? Nothing. I'm just the idiot who got roped into all of this because, much like the Sacred Tree, I too was defiled by the Dark Lord."

Harkin blinked at that, looking taken aback. "…What's that supposed to mean, exactly?"

"He's still out there, alive and preparing for another war," the Champion revealed, and Harkin took a step back out of instinct, fear flashing behind his eyes at the mere implication of the Dark Lord's continued existence.

"…What? What did you just say?"

"He's still out there," the Champion repeated, pulling his sleeve back and displaying his scarred arm for Harkin to see. "This was his handiwork. The world thinks that I did this to myself, some Dark Spell gone wrong, but no. He did this to me, left me tainted just as he did the Sacred Tree. That's why the Sages reached out to me. They sensed his Magic upon me, and they used Octavia and her knowledge of my friend, Tracey, to lure me into their trap."

"The Dark Lord… lives…?" Harkin looked shaken to the core, staring down at Octavia's grave. "Gods help us all, then…"

"The Gods won't help us, Harkin," the Champion stated bluntly. "Only we can help ourselves, and each other. The Headmaster no doubt planned to approach you about this eventually, but I don't like the idea of wasting precious time. You can continue mourning after I'm gone, but before then, you'll want to hear my proposition." Harkin said nothing, staring at the Champion in disbelief, instead. "I want to start by creating a new Sacred Tree-"

"What? Create a new Sacred Tree?" Harkin interjected, before shaking his head clear as if waking up from sleep. "You are insane! These are the ramblings of a mentally deranged child, and I will entertain them no longer! Begone-!"

"We are no mere child," the Champion stopped Harkin short, who froze in his spot out of sheer fear. "We are your salvation, but if you insult Us again, We will be your undoing."

The animals suddenly came alive with activity, running off in different directions in order to get away from the Champion, who stood perfectly still with Harkin, staring into his terrified eyes with his crimson, toad-like ones. That should be enough, I think. I need him to listen, and that's done best when one has their mouth sealed shut.

"As I was saying before you so rudely interrupted me," the Champion continued, his eyes and voice returning to normal, ignoring the fleeing animals. "I want to create a new Sacred Tree, and after thinking about it a lot last night, I think I know how. The wand that started all of this was made by Salazar Slytherin with the 'help of his daughter', a Basilisk. I believe he used something from her as the Core, most likely a poisonous part of her, seeing as the Silver Leaves had traces of Basilisk Venom inside them. I don't know anything about Wand-Making myself; however, I do know a Wandmaker of great skill, and I also happen to possess a fang from the very same Basilisk that belonged to Salazar. With this Wandmaker's help, I believe I can follow in Isolt's footsteps and recreate the conditions which gave birth to the Sacred Tree. It might not work, of course, but it's worth a shot. We're going to need all the advantages we can get in the war to come, not to mention all the good this new tree will do for those who are sick." Wait… Is he even listening to me?

"…Octavia… was right…?" Harkin finally muttered, and the Champion drew in a deep breath. Useless old fool. Catch up, already.

"Yes, and no," the Champion replied. "Don't bother trying to figure out what I am, it'll only cause you more uncertainty. Think about my proposition, and then, get in touch with the Headmaster. I can't undo the past and return your daughter to you, but together, we can kill the bastard who caused this entire mess. Her next incarnation doesn't have to live in the same world as that monster. You can decide what you want more; to wallow in misery, or, to seek vengeance. I already know what I'll be doing, with or without your help."

With his piece said, the Champion looked to Octavia's grave, hearing her joyous laughter in the back of his mind. He stared at the fresh dirt for several seconds, feeling his heartbeat slow down as he was overcome with remorse. I'm sorry you died, Octavia. You deserved a longer life, and you deserved help from someone more capable than myself. I can't bring you back, nothing can, but what I can do is kill the man responsible for all this horror. I hope that's enough. Thank you for all you did for me, and goodbye.

The Champion turned and walked away from the grave, reaching into his pocket and downing the last bit of the Calming Draught still left. I wonder what decision Harkin will come to. He'd better hurry, I don't plan to stay in the States any longer than necessary.

Thirty Minutes Later

Having finally found his way out of the Enchanted Forest, the Champion approached Ilvermorny Castle, ignoring the masses that were now roaming the grounds, eager to attend the Finals of the Chess Tournaments. He had thought about attending the games himself, but had decided against it in the end. His time would be better spent playing chess rather than watching it, and so, he was eager to collect his next piece; Heitor Reyes.

Many eyes became glued to him as he passed through the crowds, but with a bit of help from his Occlumency, he managed to shut out his surroundings. That is, until a small girl jumped into his path near Martha's Fountain, her blue eyes gleaming with excitement and her thin lips spread into a wide grin. Damn, she must be a fan. Go away-…

"Oh. My. God!" the girl squealed, her hair a familiar shade of red. "You're him! I can't believe this! You're really him!" Unfortunately… Hold on, why does she have a suitcase with her? "You're Ronald Weasley!"

"I am," the Champion said, eyeing her luggage. "Are you heading home?"

"Home?" she blinked, and then she looked back to her suitcase. "Oh, no! I'm not a student here! No, I plan to attend Hogwarts, and only Hogwarts! Not some copycat school!"

"Right…" the Champion muttered under his breath, losing all interest. "Sorry, but I'm in a bit of a rush. Do you want me to sign anything?"

"Oh, there'll be plenty of time for that later," the girl giggled, her big eyes full of admiration. "I'm Mafalda! Mafalda Prewett!" …What? "Has Aunty Muriel mentioned me to you? She said she did, but she is ancient so she might've forgotten." You're Mafalda Prewett? What are you doing here? Of all places?

The Champion studied the tiny girl; her styled, red hair, her tiny, freckled nose, her thin lips, her pointy chin, and her blue, round eyes. She was smiling up at him expectantly, and behind her eyes, he saw what could only be described as ravenous hunger.

"What's with the suitcase?" the Champion finally spoke, more curious about her sudden appearance rather than feeling excited at meeting her.

"Oh, this?" she giggled again. "I've decided to run away from home, and was hoping to find you here! I guess I got lucky, huh?! Can you take me back to England with you? Pretty please?!" What. The. Fuck?

The Champion just stared at the wilful little girl, before drawing in a deep breath. I can't just leave her here, nor can I abduct her. Fucking hell, could she have picked a worse time to show her mug?

"Are you hungry?" the Champion asked, and she shrugged.

"I could eat."

"C'mon, then," the Champion moved past her, gesturing her to follow him. Never a dull moment, eh? What am I supposed to do with this girl? And what does she mean that ran away from home? Bloody hell… I'm a magnet for other people's problems, I swear.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: And thus ends the Ilvermorny Arc, sort of. Why does FFN delete underlines when uploading chapters? Pure AIDs...