I certainly have no rights to Harry Potter, but this won't stop me writing this story. However, you probably already know this. As it is my specialty, and as in my other big stories, this shows how things go if something went different right at the beginning. Please note that I'm not a fan of bashing and also don't expect the pairings to differ from canon. However, the path to them sertainly will be quite different. I also want to try and subvert certain plots and things that became common in the fandom over the years.

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Chapter 34: Ambush at Hogsmeade

The time had come for another Hogsmeade weekend and all the students who had permission to go were anticipating it. While it still was rather cold outside - after all it was mid-February - the weather had cleared up, so conditions for visiting the village were practically ideal. Also, thanks to the Aurors the students felt safe despite what currently was going on.

There was a line at the main gate due to ever-observant Filch again insisting on checking that all the permissions were correct, though after some smartasses getting caught the first time, no one dared to try and fool him. Considering how packed the entrance hall was and how slowly the line moved, students used the time to socialize with each other.

"I heard that Honeydukes has a special sale today," Sue Li from Ravenclaw said, looking very eager.

"Oh really?" asked Susan Bones from Hufflepuff. "Drat... there goes my plan to keep my weight stable."

"Listen to them talking about their weight. Haven't they noticed that none of them are overweight?" Wayne Hopkins from Hufflepuff wondered aloud.

"Don't try to understand girls," Seamus Finnigan from Gryffindor said with a shrug.

The line moved slowly, but soon enough a group of six Gryffindor students was out of the castle and on their way to Hogsmeade. They had prepared for this trip a bit, trying to judge what they needed to buy and wanted to do so in person and not over mail. After all, part of it was the experience in the shop.

"So, we do it like always, split up and then meet at the Three Broomsticks?" Neville asked, actually being comfortable with the arrangement.

"Yep, it has proven to work well after all," Harry agreed.

"Yes, especially since Ron and me need to go to the stationary shop after he knocked over his inkwell, ruining both of our homework," Hermione said highly annoyed, giving Ron some dirty looks.

"Look, it was an accident. I didn't do it on purpose," Ron defended himself.

"Never said you did. If you had, I wouldn't be so forgiving to you." Hermione mainly was angry because her hard work had been ruined and she had to do all of it a second time, which was not improving her mood. Even someone as diligent as her after all hated having to do the same work again for stupid reasons.

"Sometimes you two really act like a married pair," Ginny said with a sigh, causing both of them to stop.

"They certainly are good at practicing having marital troubles," Luna added, causing Ron and Hermione to blush a little.

The group then split quickly into the usual pairs.

Harry and Ginny wanted to take their time and first wanted to explore a part of Hogsmeade they hadn't been in yet before they would take care of their shopping. Most of it were residential houses, but they did notice one building that was a bit tucked away. The goat head mounted on the wall next to the door gave it a unique touch.

"The Hog's Head. That's the adults-only pub we were told to avoid," Ginny said after reading the sign next to the goat head.

Taking in the rather shabby outside of the pub, Harry doubted the inside was much better. "Even the outside already warns us this is not a pub for sissies. The one thing I don't understand is the goat head. I bet there is an interesting story behind that."

"And sadly we will probably never hear it," Ginny added, having a feeling it was connected to something dirty.

Walking away from the pub, they didn't notice that they were being observed and followed.

"Kind of dead here right now," Ginny observed while they walkout down a street.

"It's all residential. Guess most of them right now are at work in the main street," Harry guessed. "Actually, a residential district at the edge of the town is kind of boring. Let's go back."

They did walk into an alleyway between two house blocks, hoping it could be used as a shortcut to get back to the main street quicker. However, they then did see two people, a man and a woman, enter the far end of the alleyway and walk towards them, before stopping and blocking the path. The way both of them looked at them was like seeing a delicious piece of meat.

Crap, I don't like the look of this! Harry thought, realizing that these two clearly were not law-abiding citizens.

"Change of plans..." Taking Ginny by the hand, he turned around, only to find their way back blocked as well. And their eyes widened when they recognized one of the two men doing do.

"Well, well, well. For how they hold so much on you, you did walk into the trap way to easily. You disappoint me, Harry. I expected more of you."

They knew exactly who that was, having seen his picture often enough, and it caused them to now be very afraid. "Greyback..." Ginny said frightened while she and Harry both drew their wands, regardless how much good it would do them.

"I would not use your toothpicks if I were you. It wouldn't do you any good anyway," Greyback told them, clearly being dismissive of them being any threat to his group.

"I just have to give a signal and you'll have every Auror in Hogsmeade on your tail," Harry tried to show courage while raising his wand.

Greyback called Harry's bluff. "You can try, but it won't do you any good. We would still just overwhelm you and take you away before they get here, so make it easy on yourself and your little girlfriend and just come peacefully," Greyback told them calmly, clearly feeling there was no way out for them.

"W-what do you want from us?" Ginny managed to get out.

"We want Harry to come with us as we do have a little gift he'll receive in due time. However, very nice of you, Harry, to bring along such a cute girl. Young and fresh - turning them always is the most fun," Greyback chuckled before showing his sharp teeth in a nasty grin. "And of course I won't take 'no' as an answer."

"Try it!" Harry knew it sounded pathetic, but he felt he had to do it regardless.

"Brave words... but also really stupid ones. All right, people, looks like they do need a little convincing. Just don't hurt them too much," Greyback chuckled darkly.

Greyback and his group started to advance on them, clearly planning to quickly subdue them and kidnap them out of Hogsmeade. Harry and Ginny knew they were in trouble. While they knew several offensive spells, they doubted they'd have much of an effect. Also, stunners worked badly against even not transformed werewolves, as Remus had told them in class.

Greyback was about to give the command to pounce, however, his plan all of a sudden hit an unexpected snag...

"You ruffians, stay away from... great goodness!" That was Percy. Right now they didn't care why he was there - though he most likely had been looking for them - only that he was there.

Unlike them, Percy was an adult who actually had gone through extensive defense training. While he was not a member of the Dueling Club, he knew very well how to defend himself after almost thee years of Defense under Professor Snape. While the man at times was a complete bastard, his Defense education was top-notch. As shown right away when Percy drew his wand and began to to fire off spells non-verbally almost right away.

Spells caused two of Greyback's group to get slammed against the walls temporarily, freeing the way. "Run! Run now!" Percy shouted while knowing he was fighting a losing battle.

Harry and Ginny did exactly that, running to and then past Percy and hopefully far away from Greyback.

Percy then tried his best to keep his foes at bay, but they did have recovered from the surprise and started to evade his spells, even though the ones that did hit still hurt them. After what felt like minutes, but took no longer than twenty seconds, Greyback ran forward, then jumped up to avoid a severing charm - Percy knew after all he had to give it all - before descending onto Percy.

"Aaarrrrgh!" Percy screamed in pain when with two vicious swipes Greyback's claw-like fingernails tore deeply into his face!

Greyback was not done however, slapping the wand out of Percy's hand before backhanding him hard, causing his shattered glasses to fly off and him to smack against a wall. Percy fell down in a heap, face red with blood. Looking at his downed foe, Greyback snarled in anger, no longer being calm.

"Fool! Be glad that I'm in a hurry and have better things to do than snap your neck!" He turned to his pack members. "After them, we can't let them get away!"

The werewolves ran, leaving the injured Percy behind. Percy, half blind due to all the blood in his face, was in hellish pain but still felt around for his wand.

Harry and Ginny meanwhile had tried to reach the main street, where Aurors would be for sure, but being unfamiliar with this part of town, had taken a wrong turn and were suddenly faced with a wall blocking their path.

"Dead end... quick, let's get out of here!" Ginny gasped. They turned around... only to stop when seeing Greyback and his helpers at the entrance of the dead end, now looking very scary in their anger.

"All right. You could have saved yourself from this. Now it's now longer Mr. Nice Wolf," Greyback snarled, clearly being done with games.

They were trapped and saw in horror the four not transformed werewolves advance onto them.

Harry wished he had a defense... a defender. A Patronus probably could have saved them, but he still had not managed to make a corporeal one, despite his best efforts. It was like something was still missing to give it the needed spark. Harry was close to give in to the panic when he felt Ginny's holding onto him.

It was at that moment when it felt like everything suddenly made sense.

"Expecto patronum!" Harry shouted while making the long-memorized wand movement.

Light erupted from Harry's wand, causing Greyback and his goons to jump back in surprise. From Harry's wand a glowing animal emerged. To Harry's surprise it was a fox - not exactly an animal he would have thought could represent his character. This fox made of light turned towards those it knew were threatening its master and friend. It then shot forward.

"Shit! Shit!" Greyback cursed when that thing was not only blocking their way but was starting to attack them in a fury. While the curse of the werewolf not automatically meant someone was dark, Greyback and his ilk however had passed that line long ago with their dark deeds, thus the spell was harmful against them.

"Boss, this is going wrong! ... Ouch!" the woman in his group cursed, only to suddenly get hit with a curse from Ginny that caused winged pests to emerge from her nose while she shrieked in pain.

-ptoooiiiii- A magical flare was going up in the sky from somewhere else, being very loud and flashy.

Greyback knew that meant in moments the place would swarm with Aurors. "Retreat!"

Watching Greyback and his goons run away, the glowing fox kept close to Harry and Ginny, protecting them. Both of them felt like fear had been injected down into their bones and they only slowly understood that they had prevailed. Moments later Aurors stomed the place.

"After them! Don't let them escape!" the group leader shouted. Some Aurors left quickly, chasing after Greyback. The remaining Aurors then saw the glowing fox. "What in all names...?" Harry, finally realizing the danger was over, dismissed the Patronus. Seeing how badly shaken both students were, the Aurors felt it best to hold back with questions for the moment.

With the initial fear ebbing away, Ginny's eyes widened. "Oh no, Percy!"

Harry had no choice but to follow Ginny and the Aurors followed suit. Ginny ran back to where they had last seen Percy. He was still there, but...

"Percy..." Ginny gasped in horror.

Her brother leaned against a wall and was screaming in pain while trying to cover his face with his hands. There was so much blood - it was everywhere - and more was leaking through the gaps between his fingers. His shattered glasses laid on the ground some meters away. In just short moments Greyback had managed to cause lots of damage.

The Aurors also looked in horror at what had happened to the young man. "Good Lord! Healer! We need to get him to a healer! Now!"


...hospital wing, some time later...

The entire castle was under a lockdown with the students having been recalled from Hogsmeade as fast as possible. The fact that Greyback had been bold enough to try and kidnap Harry had come as a nasty shock to everyone, not to speak of the fact that he had also seriously injured a student.

In the hospital wing, the Weasley family was waiting on what news there would be about Percy while he was being treated in a separate room. Madam Pomfrey had even requested two healers from St. Mungos, that was how urgent and serious it was. The silence was only broken by Mrs. Weasley's sobs, as this day was turning out to be one of the worst.

She had heard the chime from the family clock - installed by Arthur at her request - that members of the family were in mortal peril and had seen Percy's and Ginny's arms on that dreadful place. It had grown to full panic when the school had contacted her with the horrible news. Geyback that monster had almost taken away her little girl. To make matters worse, her diligent and dutiful son Percy got severely injured by that monster.

Right at the moment it seemed Molly was unable to let go of Ginny, as if fearing she could vanish. Ginny for her part, despite having gone through other nasty things before, was acting like one would expect from a scared twelve-year old girl.

Harry meanwhile sat on another bed, being surrounded by his guardians, Thomas, Veronica and Sirius. Remus had managed to get in as well. While Harry also was quite shook up, since the whole thing had entirely come out of nowhere, he had taken it a bit better than Ginny. Still, he didn't even bother with keeping up a brave front with family.

No one said a word until the door opened and the Headmaster walked in, escorting a highly distressed Penelope Clearwater.

"Any... any news?" Penelope asked, dreading the answer.

"None yet. They are still working on him," Arthur told her, his concern for his son showing.

Moments later the door to the separate room opened and Madam Pomfrey walked out. Following her were the other two healers, pushing the wheeled bed to an empty space in the hospital wing. The person on the bed was Percy, but it was a bit hard to tell with the bandages covering his face. The red hair however would have been a dead giveaway.

"Percy...?" Molly gasped when seeing that only little of his face was visible.

Surprisingly, Percy actually was awake, turning his head to look at her. "Mum? I'd love to hug you, but I'm so full with potions I can barely move."

"I don't care! I'm simply relieved we didn't lose you." Molly knew hugging Percy right now wouldn't be a smart idea.

"Ahem..." That was Madam Pomfrey, asking for attention. "Now, thankfully his eyes did not get damaged by the attack, but even when not transformed Greyback's nails, while not transmitting lycanthropy, do count as a cursed attack. He sadly will have permanent scars on his face."

Most present first looked to Remus and the scars on his face - caused by the very same werewolf - before they looked back to Percy, whose scars currently weren't visible due to the bandages. They knew getting his face scarred by a werewolf, even though it didn't mean he would become one himself, would be a massive blow to Percy's future. The stigma after all was massive.

"I do know from past reports that this will cause some minor personality shifts, like him becoming more assertive," Pomfrey added.

"Percy, I..." Arthur tried to find words, knowing that this was a life-changing event for his son.

"Dad, I know this changes everything..." Percy clearly had no illusions about his future. "To them I'm as good as dead now... They won't care that I'm not actually a werewolf - not after what happened in the past months."

Spelling this truth out like this felt to everyone like a cold shower. Even Fred and George looked depressed, since there was nothing funny about it. Their brother's future essentially had been destroyed, since they knew employers would make no difference between a werewolf and just having been visibly hurt by a werewolf.

Percy then looked to Penelope. "Penny, I would understand if you..."

"Don't you dare to finish that thought!" Penelope hissed. "If you think I'm that shallow to leave you because you got hurt, you are very wrong."

"But Penny, your own future..." Percy tried to protest.

Penelope took hold of one of Percy's hands. "While it's kind of sweet how you selflessly think about my future, I still won't drop you like a hot potato. To hell with all those bigoted people who can't see past how you got your injury! You have shown how good of a man you are by selflessly defending the children even when risking your own life."

Percy was speechless, but Molly finally saw some light in this dark day. "Percy, she really is a rare treasure. Hold onto her."

"Ahem..." That was the Headmaster, who had been silent the entire time. "I hate to interrupt the moment, but I do have to give some news concerning the entire situation."

Sirius, who up to this moment had been more concerned with Harry, looked up. "Did they get him?"

"Sadly, no. Greyback escaped into the forests and they lost his trail," Dumbledore told them.

Thomas then spoke up, making no secret of his anger. "How was it even possible that that monster managed to sneak into Hogsmeade?! I thought the entire village is secured!"

"Alastor Moody right now is busy with finding out how such a security hole has been allowed to happen. When I last saw he did not look very amused at the idea that his forces did fail in such a way," Dumbledore explained. "However, there also is another story making its rounds through the castle and I'm pretty sure it will appear in tomorrow's papers as well."

"And what story is that?" Sirius right now had little patience for such games.

"The story goes that Harry Potter managed to fend off Greyback using a glowing fox," Dumbledore told them.

"That sounds like a Patronus, but how is that possible? I'm close to finishing school and I didn't manage to produce one," Penelope wondered.

Remus knew he quickly had to explain that. "I have to make a little confession. I'm a friend of the family and when Harry asked if he could take extra lessons from me to learn how to conjure a Patronus, I agreed... of course after his guardians agreed to it as well."

Veronica nodded. "Yes, we gave the green light for it, but we had not expected for it to give such fast results. No slight to you, Harry, but from what we were told, it should have been too complicated for someone your age."

"I had thought so, too, but as it turned out, Harry does have an affinity for defensive spells of protection. However, Harry was still struggling to conjures a corporeal Patronus. Harry, how did you overcome that problem?" Remus asked Harry.

Harry was a little hesitant to reveal what had been going through his head at that moment, but knew he had to tell. "Well... Greyback had cornered us... There was no way out. Then I felt Ginny holding onto me..."

"Harry!" Ron gasped and Ginny suddenly blushed.

"Not like that!" Harry gasped as well, missing that Ginny seemed a tiny bit disappointed when hearing that. "Her being close to me made me realize I went about it the wrong way. I used memories of single people... But it made me realize there is more to it. Family... friends... all of you. All of you filling my life, that's what truly makes me happy."

"All of us together make you happy? You are such a good young man," Veronica said, hugging Harry for some moments.

"Interesting," Dumbledore said, hoping no one noticed that Harry only got the idea when Ginny was close to him while they were in danger. "Could you perhaps show it? If you feel like it, that is."

"Actually conjuring it does make me feel better," Harry said, then conjured his fox Patronus without much trouble.

"Impressive, Harry," Percy said, though it was impossible at the moment to gauge his expression. "It normally would take hard study to master such a complicated spell. You truly saved yourself."

"Fascinating," Dumbledore said while looking at the glowing fox. Everyone else also looked in awe at it. "Though, call it the curiosity of an old man. Why do you think it took the form of a fox?"

"I honestly don't know," Harry admitted.

"I think I can shed some light there," Remus said. "Since the Patronus reflects on the personality of its user, Harry having a fox is not that strange. While Harry certainly has lots of courage, he also is cautious and thinks about the consequences of his actions. A fox fits quite well for that. Also, I think he took Sirius and me a bit as role-models, since we both use canine Patronus."

"Well, he certainly is much more humble than James, considering how Harry clearly doesn't like too much attention," Sirius added, noticing how uncomfortable Harry looked.

"Just some advice Harry. This will cause lots of attention on you, so expect the Boy-Who-Lived to be warmed up in the newspapers," Remus warned Harry.

Just what I needed... Harry complained silently.

o

"All right, Albus, since you told both of us it's important, we did excuse ourselves from Harry. So what is this about? I guess today's disaster?" Sirius asked when they entered the Headmaster's office.

Dumbledore had told Sirius and Remus that he needed to talk to them about the entire matter in his office. Both men had been a bit reluctant, but Harry had enough other people to comfort him, so he'd told them to go. Now here they were.

"Just some patience, Sirius. I'm still waiting for Minerva and Alastor before we can start," Dumbledore told Sirius.

"You have not changed at all over the years. How disappointing."

Sirius turned to look at the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black, the most unpopular Headmaster in Hogwarts history and his ancestor. "I guess you are still not over the fact that I 'polluted' the now no-longer pure house of Black?"

Phineas Nigellus looked outright horrified. "I had no idea you would commit such a sacrilege. You have ruined the Blacks forever!"

Sirius chuckled darkly. "Without my sacrilege, as you call it, the Blacks would be history by now. Think about it."

The portrait of Phineas Nigellus looked ready to have a stroke if he were still alive. That moment McGonagall walked into the office, followed by Moody, who looked as angry as he only had been during certain parts of the war. Clearly Moody had found the root of today's near-disaster and was not happy with what he had found.

"Some heads will roll..." Moody grumbled darkly.

"Alastor, considering your reaction, I can harbor the guess that you have found the problem?" Dumbledore asked Moody.

"Oh yes, you better believe I did. Greyback managed to slip in because the perimeter patrols around Hogsmeade were mostly the same as during days when no students would be present. Greyback must have observed them for some time to realize that," Moody explained how Greyback managed to enter Hogsmeade.

McGonagall looked alarmed at that revelation. "But... didn't you give special orders for Hogsmeade weekends?" she asked.

If anything, Moody looked even more ticked off. "I did. However, certain people clearly thought I was joking and handed the whole thing so lax that there was no difference anymore. Well, they can now look forward for getting their asses roasted for this clear violation of orders causing this near-disaster."

"So all of this happened due to simple laziness," Sirius growled, clearly being of the same mind as Moody on the issue.

"That may be, but under such circumstances it would be foolish of us to allow students to go to Hogsmeade while Gryback is still at large," McGonagall came to the problem at hand.

"Yes, not only because it would the students into danger, but also due to public pressure," Dumbledore agreed, knowing very well how public relations worked after decades of being the Headmaster of Hogwarts.

"I already know what these hacks will put into their articles. I'll be an easy target for them and they all want to throw a party once I'm forcibly retired. They act as if they know everything better!" Moody spat, clearly having experienced this before.

"That brings me to the next point. Greyback clearly has an abnormal interest in Harry Potter," McGonagall said. "Him wanting to infect Harry on purpose is alarming."

"As angry as I am, it doesn't surprise me," Sirius said. "Harry is to many a symbol of hope after what happened at the end of the war, regardless how absurd that is. Infecting Harry would be a huge blow alone in its symbolism."

"Perhaps we also need to be more alert regarding young Harry," Dumbledore thought aloud.

"Do what you think is right, but better make sure you don't go on a wild goose chase." Moody then walked to the door. "Well, I need to do some serious dressing downs. That will take time."

It was only after Moody was gone, that Dumbledore dared to approach a sensitive topic.

"I did not want to talk about this while Alastor was present. Harry's sudden mastery of the Patronus charm has created questions. Remus, he truly was unable to successfully cast it during training?" Dumbledore asked.

"Yes, which makes his explanation how he got it a bit puzzling. It's not out of the realm of the possible, but..." Remus hesitating showed how it still was a bit unbelievable.

"Yes, that is what I thought. He only realized this when young Ginevra held onto him while they were in danger." Dumbledore looked thoughtful. "I did speak with their friends and all four of them admitted that they got a bad feeling for a moment, like their friends are in danger."

"Albus, that... that matches with what Mr. Weasley and Mr. Longbottom told me after the whole affair with the chamber; that they had suddenly felt their friends are in danger... as well as a short pain," McGonagall realized.

"Albus, does that mean...?" Sirius up until this point had mostly dismissed the idea as a misunderstood prophecy.

"Yes, Harry and his five friends are bonded in some way. There is no way to say when and how, but now there is little doubt that they indeed are the 'Chosen Six' as being foretold in the prophecy," Dumbledore told them.

"I don't like this. We know Voldemort is out there and now that prophecy pretty much states he will return and they have to fight him. And now we got evidence there is no way out of it," Remus said uncomfortably, clearly being disturbed by the idea.

"Understandable, but that they are bonded in whatever way is proof that the prophecy was sealed at some point somehow and now there is no way around it. I have a feeling that also is the reason why young Ginevra and Luna were admitted into the school early," Dumbledore concluded.

"So it must have happened even before they entered Hogwarts," Sirius realized.

"That's all interesting, but what is it we can do?" McGonagall asked.

"Alas, all we can do is to prepare them so that they won't be helpless when it happens," Dumbledore sighed, looking his age.

"We can't single them out," Remus added. "However, who says that we only have to prepare them alone for what is coming?"

o

"DAMN IT!" Greyback cursed loudly while hitting a tree, causing splinters to fly off. He honestly didn't care at the moment how it hurt his hands.

They had fled back up the mountains, making sure that the Aurors would lose sight of them and after several hours finally give up and see any further chase as a lost cause. Thus their observation posts had not been discovered and the group had managed to get back to their main camp. It was only then when Greyback finally let out his pent-up rage at the failure.

"Even with the interference it was still all going according to plan! How did that little pipsqueak suddenly pull a glowing fox out of his ass?! He's fucking thirteen years old, he shouldn't be able to do such shit!" Greyback screamed in anger, a kick finally causing the tree to snap like a twig.

This severe disappointment had removed Greyback's self-control for the time being and the monster underneath was showing openly. The pack kept a healthy distance, waiting for Greyback to finish venting before they would even dare to approach him. After all, the last guy who didn't heed the warnings lost two fingers and spent a week recovering from his injuries.

It took several more minutes, but finally Greyback had exhausted his anger, sitting down. The punk right away started to treat his injured hands. "I know you are angry, Mr. Greyback, but you are always at your best when you don't lose your head."

Greyback still growled angrily but started to calm down. "I had it all planned so well and that little snot ruined it instead of complying like he should have."

"I know, Mr. Greyback, that was incredibly rude of him," the punk agreed while continuing to pull out splinters. "You certainly can't let this stand, right?"

"Of course not!" he grumbled.

Greyback then fell into silent brooding while his hands were being treated. If anything, his silence was worse than his open anger, making everyone uneasy. The silence lasted for long, long minutes while everyone carefully watched the expressions on Greyback's face. They knew better than to say anything for the time being until Greyback himself would break the silence.

Finally it seemed that he had come to a decision and started to chuckle. "Yes... They wanted it this way... Too bad for them..."

"Boss?" one of the men, who was brave enough, asked carefully.

"I found the fitting punishment for little Harry not doing as he was told to," Greyback said, clearly being calm again. "I won't punish him. Oh no, I will punish all of them."

The man blinked at that. "Uhm, boss, how do you intend to do that? After all, aren't we supposed to hit the school anyway?"

"Yes, but before it only had been to make a point. Now it's no mercy and cause as much damage as we can possibly do once we strike," Greyback lectured the man.

o

When Dumbledore returned to the hospital wing, it was rather quiet. The Wesleys had left for the moment; now that they were reassured that Percy would recover, they needed to calm their own taxed nerves first. Also, they now wanted to put more attention to Ginny. Harry was also gone, as his guardians felt a hospital room was not the ideal place recover from such an experience. The only one left besides Percy was Penelope, sitting by his bedside and talking to him.

Penelope then noticed him. "Oh, Headmaster..."

"No, Ms. Clearwater, no need to get up for my sake;" Dumbledore waved it off when he saw her being about to try a proper greeting. "I'm here because I need to talk about the future."

"The future..." Percy groaned, clearly being more alert now that the potions were slowly wearing off.

"Percy, what did I tell you about giving up?" Penelope told Percy gently while holding his hand.

"Yes, but sadly the facts don't look good for me." Percy held no illusions about that. "It will be really difficult for me to hold a job that isn't the lowest of menial labor."

"I have to be honest that I had already planned to approach you anyway, Mr. Weasley, but today's events accelerated my timetable. It would be cruel of me not to offer you hope in this dark moment," Dumbledore told Percy.

"I'm honestly puzzled what you are talking about, Sir," Percy admitted.

"Don't worry, it will all be explained," Dumbledore said while pulling up a chair. "I also had not anticipated it, but after witnessing how Ms. Clearwater stood by your side despite what happened today, this also would be a chance for her."

"Me?" Penelope wondered.

Dumbledore wasn't surprised by that reaction. "Yes. It should not be surprising to you that as your Headmaster I do know that you are still uncertain which path you should take after school. Filius told me about that."

"Headmaster, with all due respect, what are you talking about?" Percy finally asked.

Dumbledore knew he now got all their attention. "Allow me to explain..."


...Hogwarts Dueling Club, February 18th...

The Dueling Club had quickly become one of the most popular clubs in Hogwarts. That mainly was due to - and despite of - its head, Severus Snape. Despite having a reputation as a strict teacher who didn't tolerate any goofing off in his class - and was feared for giving out punishments when you got on his bad side - students did admit that the man knew what he was doing once you managed to follow his high standards.

It did help that the only place where Snape - who was notorious for being impatient with younger students when they didn't get something right away - came into contact with the younger years was said Dueling Club, and here he had the power to remove those he saw as too problematic.

Part of Snape also had been tempted to simply not allow Potter and his friends into the club once they showed their interest in joining, but by that point he'd had enough time to observe Potter from a distance. Despite the still lingering bitterness, Snape had to reluctantly admit that Potter was acting nothing like his father, preferring to be one student of many instead of wanting to show off. Also, his friends clearly weren't a second incarnation of the Marauders.

It also did help that Potter and his friends were actually capable of following his instructions.

While for the early months of the club the great hall had been used for their duels, ever since its re-opening the Chamber of Secrets hosted the meetings of the Dueling Club. It saved everyone the logistical nightmare with the great hall and Snape felt Salazar Slytherin would have approved of his chamber being used this way.

Snape then looked to Potter and his group, remembering something else.

I told the Headmaster that constantly having a watch on him isn't needed while he's inside the school. It's like we are babysitting him. Just wait until he blows up over it, Snape thought, since he himself also wouldn't have stood for such over-protection.

After all, it was not like Greyback would suddenly jump out from behind a corner. Potter soon enough would get sick of this unwanted protection detail.

While Snape was thinking, the six friends were talking.

"Well, our plan to learn how to make a Patronus like you did has failed spectacularly. None of us could even produce a wisp of mist," Ginny said with a sigh.

"Don't take it too hard. Uncle Remus told you that I was showing great talent with such spells and that you shouldn't use me as your yardstick. He told you to wait until you are a bit older and then train regularly until you get results," Harry reminded his friends.

"Yes, but..." Hermione looked to be a bit embarrassed over her own failure. "I'm used to getting spells so easily. This spell however deals with feelings and I'm right now stumped like the others."

She then felt Ron's hand on her shoulder. "Don't be disheartened. It's like with you and chess, there simply are some things you are not natuarally good at and getting it is a hard slog. All of us have something we are not good at."

Hermione said nothing, but her heart beat a little faster. The seldom times Ron showed this side of his proved why he was such a good friend. Yes... friend... For the time being.

After the near-disaster with Greyback in Hogsmeade, where Harry only thanks to Percy's interference and him managing to conjure a corporeal Patronus managed to not get kidnapped, his friends had wanted to see if they had any talent for the spell like he did, so they had visited Remus an hour before the club met to test it out. The results however had not been very promising.

None of them had managed to repeat Harry's feat of getting even a little mist out of their wands on the first try - or on several further tries for that matter. Remus had assured them that was normal and that Harry simply was gifted with defensive and protective spells, but it still had felt a bit like a let-down.

Harry and Ginny were still disturbed by the incident with Greyback but were trying to move on. This after all was not nearly as bad as being confronted with Voldemort or a massive basilisk.

"Well, apart from today... I noticed something the past days. Either I'm getting paranoid or there always is a teacher around as soon as I leave the dorms. It's getting kind of irritating," Harry told his friends while rolling his eyes.

"It is a surprise to you?" Luna asked as if it had been really obvious. "After Hogsmeade they want to make sure you are truly safe."

"Well, it's getting annoying!" Harry grumbled, crossing his arms. "It's not like Greyback can jump me while I'm inside the castle. This is getting ridiculous, they are more scared than I am."

"ATTENTION!"

Snape had the ability that when he called for attention, everyone made sure that he would be getting theirs. So when he called for attention, no one dared to question him. Granted, at the start of the club had been a few who thought he was joking, but after Snape had simply removed them from the club, the others had quickly acknowledged his authority.

Snape took in the silence and all eyes being on him. "Good. Now, I've had a conversation with the Headmaster. In light of recent events we decided that the Dueling Club needs to also explore spells that outside of a regular duel are used to defend against hostile elements."

One student raised a hand and Snape indicated to her to speak. "Professor, does that mean spells that can actually injure?"

Snape noted the student was from Hufflepuff, thus the question made sense. "It means exactly that. Of course you won't use those spells against each other. Only total dunderheads would practice those on the living object." Snape let his words sink in for a moment. "We'll use these training dummies over there. Follow my instructions closely." It was clear the last part was not a suggestion.

"Yikes!" Neville gasped while they moved to face the training dummies that were lined up at one of the walls. "Sometimes Professor Snape can be downright scary. 'Practice on the living object'?"

"There are things in his past that no one wants to talk about. Obviously those years have left their mark on him," Luna observed.

"Do we really want to know after that glimpse?" Ron asked and no one answered. "So it's decided. Asking about that would be suicidal anyway should Snape get wind of it."

Everything then proceeded from that point and the students in the club worked hard to replicate the spells that Snape was showing them. It weren't that spectacular of attack spells - and it was stuff that someone in third or forth year could learn - but used by whole groups these spells had quite some stopping power.

Snape for his part walked down the line, acknowledging students that got it and giving disapproving looks to those who didn't, causing them to double their efforts. In recent years he had moved to non-verbally dressing down students for lacking effort, having found it to be very effective. He then reached Potter's group.

He really wanted to criticize them, but there was little for him to do so. The six of them had apparently quickly decided on a form of efficient sharing of the work - since unlike in class this was ungraded work - in order to compensate their individual weaknesses. That kind of coordination helped them to come along quickly with getting the spells right.

"Not bad. The six of you are clearly learning." That was all the praise he could get himself to say right at the moment before moving on.

"That coming from him is kind of high praise," Ginny said once Snape was out of hearing range. "I've heard from my brothers that his standards are so high, he only seldom gives out praise."

"I bet Fred and George had some different words on him. They did start having him in Defense this year and they quickly managed to get on his permanent bad side," Ron added, remembering their mother giving up on sending Howlers on that particular topic, since it happened too often.

"Sometimes I really wonder about these two. What do they think this accomplishes, apart from putting more obstacles into their own path?" Hermione wondered before managing to nail a spell dead-center into a dummy.

"I've given up trying to understand their motives. I bet they'll botch most of their OWLs this year as well, if only to prove a point to Mum," Ginny waved it off.

They had no idea if Fred and George had applied for the Dueling Club at one point, but Snape probably wouldn't have let them in anyway.


...March 16th, somewhere in Austria...

An abandoned house in Austria had come to hold some interesting temporary inhabitants.

While it was an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere in Austria, in an area that used to be agricultural but nowadays was left to nature, said abandoned house had been ideal for them to set up camp and work on the first important part of the plan: helping Voldemort to regain a temporary physical body so he could interact with the world and use his magic.

While Pettigrew and the Carrows were terribly unsuited for the fine work, they were good for the grunt work, which first had involved them breaking into a magical archive and get Voldemort some texts he did need for what would come next. After all, Voldemort had studied Alchemy at Hogwarts and managed to finish it with the highest possible score and honors.

There were ways to help him regain a temporary body until the more permanent solution could be enacted.

Voldemort felt reassured about these three when they followed each and every of his orders without any question. First them stealing the needed ingredients, then following his exact orders to the letter in preparing the mixture in the bathtub of the house. The final act - and the most difficult one - was to kidnap a highly pregnant witch. The gender of the unborn child was of no concern to Voldemort, since it would be overwritten anyway.

Now they were ready for the final step.

"Sie sollten sich geehrt f├╝hlen, da Sie einen nicht zu untersch├Ątzenden Beitrag zu meiner Wiedergeburt beitragen werden," [You should feel honored, since you after all will contribute a non-trivial part for my rebirth,] Voldemort told the kidnapped witch casually in German, being fluent in it after having studied Grindelwald extensively.

His one-sided casual conversation made the whole thing only more horrible. Since the Imperius Curse could interfere with the process, they had the pregnant woman tied up and gagged, not to speak of the disturbing fact that she was naked and tried in vain to escape, her eyes wide in terror at the realization of what would happen next.

"Oh, keine Sorge. Bald wird es alles vorbei sein und Sie werden alle Ihre Sorgen hinter sich lassen," [Oh, don't worry. Soon it will all be over and you'll leave all your worries behind,] Voldemort mockingly reassured her.

He then turned to his followers. "Get her into the tub and then follow my orders to the letter."

They did as told and despite her struggles the witch was soon inside the tub, the alchemic mixture biting into her skin. This only got worse once the mixture was charged with various spells, the woman realizing in horror that something was happening to her unborn child. Yet she was helpless to do anything about it while the horror took its course.

Finally, everyone else was done and Voldemort floated up to the tub. "Good, now we see if you have done all of it correctly. There will be serious consequences if you did it wrong," Voldemort told them before turning into a featureless black cloud.

What followed next was too horrible to describe in detail. To be short, Voldemort's mist entered the woman down there between her legs to reach the already changing child. Words could not describe what followed next, only that by the time Alecto used a cutting spell to open the woman's belly, she mercifully was already dead, her face in death being a mask of terror.

Without hesitation Alecto reached into the belly and pulled out the child, which had been altered in frightening ways, the worst being that it now sported Voldemort's face. It was at that point that the... thing opened its eyes.

"It worked... That means none of you messed up," Voldemort said, though voice was strangely unfitting for this small body. "Alecto, clean me."

Alecto did so without any complaint, then wrapped Voldemort into a warm blanket. Pleased that they did as told, even though he did notice them being a bit startled by his current appearance, Voldemort looked to Pettigrew. "Pettigrew, my wand."

Without hesitating Pettigrew pulled out Voldemort's wand, which he had kept safe for all these years, and handed it over to its rightful owner. As soon as Voldemort's small hand took hold of the wand, he felt it. It was like the wand recognized its rightful owner and was very happy to be reunited with him. Wanting to test if his magic was with him, Voldemort did cast a simple force bolt, which promptly took out part of the wall.

"My power is with me again. This took me no effort at all," Voldemort said, being very pleased that things were looking up.

"This is wonderful, Master. What is now our next step?" Pettigrew asked.

"Our next step is to return home. So much to do... Once we are there, we first have to make a house call however," Voldemort told them, already knowing what he would gain from it.

He also thought about what happened a month ago at Hogwarts - the newspapers after all did report about it. Greyback should be thankful that his little kidnapping scheme had failed, since the only person who in Voldemort's mind was allowed to get rid of Harry Potter was Voldemort himself for reason that were his concern only. Had Greyback taken that away from him, there would have been hell to pay.

"He won't even know what hits him. The bastard was all high and mighty, pretending he was morally superior to us, while in reality he's the opposite. At least we don't deny our actions," Amycus said, knowing exactly what Voldemort was talking about.

"Where there is much light, there also is much shadow," Voldemort mused. "Nonetheless, this body is frail and needs proper care - care that you will be capable of. That involes milking Nagini's venom for me, since this new body needs it as sustenance."

Pettigrew looked to Nagini, who was watching the bathtub. "Will she allow that without incident?"

Voldemort looked to Nagini. "I hope it won't be a terrible indisposition that they can milk your venom for my well-being, my dear Nagini?" he asked her in Parseltongue.

"Of course not! Everything to help you. But right now I'm hungry and my meal is filthy," Nagini told Voldemort, sounding like a little girl whose lollipop has fallen into the dirt.

Nagini was the only person he allowed to be like this to him, since he honestly felt a connection to her. He looked to Amycus and Paettigrew. "Take the ropes off the corpse and rinse it off. Nagini doesn't like her food being dirty."

Both men didn't blink an eye at these orders, being used to horrible things by this point in their lives.


...Defense classroom, March 18th...

It again was time for the third-year Defense Against The Dark Arts class consisting of half of the students from that year, in this case those from Gryffindor and Ravenclaw. Unlike the previous two year, with the useless teachers of Quirrell and Lockhart, this year almost everyone was anticipating this class, since Remus Lupin was an awesome teacher who had already taught them so much yet always kept it interesting.

"What do you think he'll show us this time? He's been mixing things up since what happened in Hogsmeade," Ginny wondered while they all went to their seat, Remus not yet being in the classroom.

That certainly was true. After Harry nearly got kidnapped by Greyback, Remus had changed his lesson plan, so that beside how to defend against dangerous magical creatures he also included some forms of general defensive magic. They had even seen him talk to Snape - despite the history between these two men - to coordinate between his lessons and the Duelling Club.

"Don't pull me into it! I'm happy enough the teachers no longer hover over me, afraid that I could vanish into thin air for some reason," Harry said, looking annoyed at the memory. "Granted, Greyback was scary as hell and I understand why they decided to cancel Hogsmeade visits after that scare, but concerning me they did overreact."

"Sometimes I don't understand magical society. The public acts like you will be their next savior and big warrior, but as soon as something almost happens to you they freak," Hermione thought aloud. Even though Harry rarely brought up his status, it was an open secret.

"I thought we are talking about Defense class?" Harry said, wanting to steer this back on-topic.

"It is a bit sad that his lesson plan only was allowed to become more balanced after such a horrible event," Luna thought aloud, playing at the fact that according to the lesson plan Remus got from the Ministry, third year should be entirely about defense against dark creatures.

Though teachers with less scruples could flaunt these plans without consquences, as Lockhart had demonstrated to their disadvantage last year.

"Not like him to be late," Ron said while they waited. Remus normally was a punctual man.

As soon as Ron had said that the door opened and Remus walked in... followed by Dora. The six friends did their best to not say a word, since after all Dora had asked them not to promote that they knew her personally. They had a feeling what this was about, since Remus after all had hinted that sometime over the year Aurors would give some demonstrations. Of course Dora would have volunteered for that, considering the strange, ongoing dance between her and Remus.

"Hello, class! Today we are doing something special, and for that we have a guest. I introduce Auror Tonks to you. She has volunteered to help out in several lessons," Remus greeted the class.

"Also hello from my side, children," Dora greeted the students. "Considering the changed circumstances, our boss felt it best to give you some useful lessons on how to defend yourselves properly."

That created excitement in the students, since an Auror helping to teach them meant whatever they would learn had to be good.

"Do not think this means just knowing spells, but also how to actually fight. It has nothing to do with fancy duels that are loaded with duel etiquette or standing on a stage while dueling. Most fights are dirty," Dora lectured them, knowing from experience how true that was.

"Now, the challenge of this class is that first everyone is to come forward and try to hit Auror Tonks with a spell. Once that is done, we will teach you how to use the tactics used by her for yourself," Remus told the class.

"Excuse me, Ma'am, but isn't that rather dangerous if we fire off spells at you?" Dean Thomas asked, looking a bit concerned.

Dora chuckled. "Thanks for the concern, but don't worry. You won't hurt me and all I'll do to you is a short stinging hex to show you've been hit and are out. We'll go in alphabetical order and first is... Boot, Terry from Ravenclaw."

Terry Boot tried to look confident when he faced Dora. As soon as the signal left Remus' wand, he quickly tried a leg-locker on Dora, but the spell was reflected by non-verbally conjured shield, before she suddenly jumped forward and with a leg swipe caused him to fall before firing a stinging hex at his arse, causing him to yelp.

"Now, all of you have to do better than this," Dora told the class.

"Why do I have the sudden feeling we won't like what's coming next?" Neville sighed.

Neville had been more spot-on than he'd imagined.

Dora encouraged the students to go against her with all they got, but even then no student managed to actually overcome her. She moved an awful lot, threw up shields non-verbally and then managed to nail all and every student - and she made no distinction between boys and girls - with a stinging hex to the arse. The huge gulf in skill that was between her and the students was humbling and not only showed how well-trained an Auror could be, but also what to expect of truly dangerous opponents.

Ginny rubbed her butt after having lost, still feeling the ghost of the sting. Well, Dora certainly does not go easy on us just because we know her personally. Boy, if she wanted to humble us, she certainly succeeded.

Since they fought in alphabetical order, Ron was the last to do so. While some had lost rather undignified - Seamus and Lavender still looked embarrassed at how they had lost - others did better and Ron was one of them. He even did manage to let off two spells of his own, though both died in Dora's shields, before he was defeated as well.

"Now, don't take it personally, the gap between us is simply too big," Dora told them. "And now we'll together show you how to improve yourselves!"

And she stayed true to her promise.

"For normally being such a goofball, Dora can be a really good teacher," Ron admitted after class was over and the students were leaving. "It's a bit frightening how she can switch from her normal self to dead serious in an instant."

"I found it highly informative," Luna said while rubbing a spot on her arm where a strong stinging hex had hit when she had messed up. "Considering recent events, it would have been counterproductive for them to coddle us."

They now were at the door. Looking back they saw Remus talking animatedly with Dora. Their body language was weird to them, like there was a careful gauging how far they could go. The looks Dora was giving Remus however could be clearly interpreted by the girls, as well as Remus being reluctant. It was not often that it was the man who was reluctant.

"I honestly don't understand what going on between them. I know you told us, but this is more like they constantly dance around the issue," Ron expressed his confusion.

"Trust me, we should leave it alone. It's them who have to work out what they feel for each other," Harry said, not wanting them to stick their noses into that potential hornets nest.

Considering what the romantic entanglements of adults entailed, he would be glad to put these off for himself for a bit longer. He knew his opinion about that would change a lot soon enough, but for now he only wanted to stay out of it.


...Crouch Manor, April 3rd...

Evening had settled over the manor of Barty Crouch Snr. like a dark blanket. That however mattered little to the man who sat at the desk in his study, still doing work, since that was the only thing now filling his life. After all, there was no one left for him to care for and no one who cared for him, seeing his son just as an obligation to his late wife.

Nonetheless, Crouch knew things soon would be looking up, since his big plan soon enough would come to fruition.

It had taken lots of sweat, blood and tears to get everything done, especially due to the current ongoing mess with Greyback having made the other two schools a bit reluctant, but everything finally was finalized and now nothing stood in the way of the revival of the Triwizard Tournament being held next year at Hogwarts.

It had mainly been his accomplishment and he had made sure his name would be all over it. Fudge of course had tried to ensure his name would be connected to the event, but failed utterly. And then there was that fool Ludo Bagman, the head of the Department of Magical Games and Sports. The only thing that fool Bagman had been good for was to throw around harebrained ideas.

To imagine that he wanted dragons at the tournament, as if he had forgotten that cockatice incident which had ended the tournament for over 200 years, Crouch thought when remembering one of Bagman's idiotic ideas.

The tasks after all, while dangerous, were not supposed to be almost certainly lethal and allow interference if the life of a champion was in serious danger.

Then there had been Bagman honestly asking if the second task couldn't simply be held in the Black Lake next to Hogwarts, not even considering that it would mean the spectators looking at an empty lake for almost an entire hour. Not to speak of the final task, where Bagman again had ignored that no one could follow the champions' actions in his original idea, requiring some modifications and insight from Quidditch tournaments regarding visibility.

He should be in Azkaban, not leading a Ministry department, Crouch thought, still remembering the sham of a trial.

There had been other issues as well, most prominent the trouble with Norway.

Due to Durmstrang being highly exclusive, picking their students from all over Europe and also disallowing muggleborn students, Norway had created their own rival school many years ago. The Norwegian Ministry, already being on very bad terms with Durmstrang, had tried to make their school attend the tournament instead of Durmstrang, only for Durmstrang to pull rank as one of the original initiators of the tournament.

The Norwegian Ministry had been especally angry about the fact that after everything had been planned out and organized by them, Durmstrang had hijacked their efforts and thus had ceased any further cooperation. Therefore Durmstrang, unlike the other two schools, would come without political backing.

That was sad, but would hardly diminish the quality of the tournament. Crouch could now concentrate on his new work: preparing for his campaign to become Minister once the tournament has taken Wizarding Britain by storm, connecting his name with its success.

He was about to take hold of his quill, when...

-BOOOOOM!-

Crouch jumped out of his chair when the whole house shook. That felt like the front door had been blown to pieces! Crouch barely was able to draw his wand when the door to his study suffered the same fate. There, standing in the middle of the dust cloud was his worst nightmare: two Death Eaters, wearing the full set of robes and masks, looking downright ready to murder him.

"Scum! You won't get me that easily!" Crouch shouted when he jumped away and his chair was shattered by a blasting spell. Now the battle was on.

However, it quickly proved to be an uneven battle. Crouch no longer was in his prime and also had not done any serious dueling in years. While some years ago he probably could have handled these two, it now proved too difficult for him while his study was slowly turning into a shattered battlefield.

Knowing he needed help, he gasped "Winky! Come and help your Master!"

-pop- "Winky is here... Intruders! You won't hurt Master!" the house-elf screamed when she appeared. She was about to use her significant magical powers to smite these intruders, when...

"Diffindo!"

They had not noticed a third man enter. Winky had no time to react when a powerful severing charm cleanly went though her neck, killing her instantly, her head falling off her shoulders while her body collapsed in a puddle of her own blood.

After that things went downhill for Crouch quickly and soon enough he was slammed to the floor and lost his wand. Interestingly enough, his attackers didn't kill him, but instead magically bound him to a chair.

"Amycus, you know where to look for him. With the elf dead, it shouldn't be too difficult."

Crouch couldn't help but to be unnerved by the voice coming from the bundle held by the third Death Eater. "Who- who are you? Where are you?"

"Ah, kind of rude of me. Pettigrew, pull up a seat for me so that I face him."

Crouch did recognize the name instantly. In horror he watched as one intact seat was turned so it faced him. The bundle then was set into it. It was a... thing holding a wand, but the face was that of someone Crouch had thought he would never see again. He was a man not easily terrified, but staring at that thing with Voldemort's face, Crouch really wished to be somewhere else.

Voldemort chuckled. "Oh, I believe the word you are looking for is: 'Aaaaaargh', right?"

Right then the third Death Eater returned, leading a man in his thirties wearing sleeping clothes and whose expression was strangely vacant. It was Barty Crouch Jr., still under the effect of the Imperius Curse. "I found him easily, Master, but he's still out of it."

"There is something that can be done about that," Voldemort raised his wand against Crouch. "Since you clearly are not willing to release control, you have no one to blame but yourself... Crucio."

Coldly watching the elder Crouch scream in utter pain, Voldemort waited for the moment where he could stop the spell. Despite him having a sadistic side, Voldemort also could be highly pragmatic, and he was only torturing Crouch so that he would let go of the Imperius on his son. Finally it happened when the younger man stumbled and held his head, so Voldemort ended the elder Crouch's torment.

Barty Jr. for his part shook his head, then looked up. "It is still a little vague, but..." He then took in the Death Eaters, before he saw the small creature in the seat. The face giving him a look of expectation. He quickly went to his knees. "Master... I can't believe it's you. After all these years at last..."

"Look me into the eyes, Barty," Voldemort commanded.

Barty Jr. did so and held no secrets from his Master. How in all the years of imprisonment he had always longed for him to return and set things right. Voldemort also saw how exactly Barty had come to be here and not in Azkaban, which was quite the interesting tale and showed his father in an interesting light.

Voldemort was pleased with what he saw. "Excellent, a true believer. Get up, Barty. We will talk later about my current... indisposition. Now get dressed, right now you are not fit for travel."

"If I may suggest Master, that we take whatever is useful from the house? We need every possible resource and I know where my father hid the valuables," Barty Jr. suggested.

"You are thinking ahead, very good. Amycus, Alectio, Pettigrew! Start to take this place apart and pocket anything valuable or useful!" Voldemort commanded.

Crouch Snr. had to watch and listen in horror while the Death Eaters started to ransack his house, leaving no stone unturned, while soon his own son joined them, knowing exactly where to find the hidden money and other valuable things. He then looked back to Voldemort, who was visibly amused at his horror.

"Interesting how fast things can fall apart, isn't it?" Voldemort said. "You like order over everything else, but to achieve it you did quite the opposite of what you claim to stand for. The sheer irony..."

"Why don't you get over with it and kill me?" Crouch knew his days were numbered, no need to hold back anymore.

"All in its due time. You should feel honored since you will play an important role in my further plans." Voldemort then looked to the side and Crouch to his horror saw a huge snake slither into the room. "Ah, there is Nagini. She is still a bit disappointed that I won't give her another big snack, but I don't want her to gain too much weight."

Crouch knew Voldemort spoke of murder and feeding people to his snake. The casual way he spoke of something that horrible like it was the most natural thing in the world to feed to a pet with made it so horrifying. "You're insane..."

"That's what they all say." The way Voldemort did not get angry was very creepy.

After some more time everyone returned. Barty Jr. spotted his father's wand on the floor and picked it up. "You won't mind if I borrow this, father? It after all always responded so well to me."

"I should not have listened to your mother. So you are guilty and knowingly destroyed my life to hide who you truly are," Crouch Snr. snarled.

Barty Jr. was not moved. "You have no one to blame but yourself. Had you given me the same love and attention as mother did, I probably would have turned out differently. But due to you I did learn what is truly important and found my Lord."

"Interesting, isn't it?" Voldemort remarked in dark amusement. "For someone who claims to be so law-abiding, your father did many dark deeds. There is much darkness in him and under different circumstances he would have made a wonderful Death Eater."

"Never..." Crouch Snr. protested.

"Denial is a powerful force... Amycus, Alecto, Pettigrew! Leave us alone." The other three left the room. "Barty, I know you would love nothing more than to end his life, but I reserve that privilege for myself. Be content that you can watch his final moments."

It seemed Barty was quite content with just watching. "You are very generous, my Lord."

"Oh, I know..." Voldemort than raised his wand. "Diffindo!"

Voldemort had not used the Killing Curse on purpose, since that would have been too quick of a death. Also, he was well aware that he needed to make this look like low-life scum had murdered the inhabitants and ransacked the house. The Killing Curse would have been too high profile for this. It still was satisfying to watch how the elder Crouch's throat was ripped open and he choked to death on his own blood. Voldemort vanished the ropes and chair and the dead Crouch collapsed in a puddle of his own blood.

"How beautiful..." Barty said with a look of reverence.

"Indeed. Now leave for a moment, Barty," Voldemort told him, feeling that this needed no witnesses. After all, he was paranoid about his biggest secret.

Voldemort saw him follow that command without question. Yes, Barty indeed was a worthy follower. Looking at the corpse, he was glad he had made all the preparations in advance, as it now would be a simple ceremony. "Come closer, Nagini. It now is time to let you profit from his sacrifice."


...two days later, Hogwarts great hall...

While normally in these days the newspapers fed their readers with stories about possible werewolf sightings in the paranoia going around Magical Britain, today a very different story managed to take hold of the title page.

BARTY CROUCH MURDERED!

Yesterday, concern arose when Bartemius Crouch, the head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation, did not appear in the Ministry. With no word coming over the day, and considering Mr. Crouch's normally clockwork-like punctuality, Ministry workers arrived at his house, only to become witnesses to a grisly scene. Barty Crouch has been killed in his own home!

The first Auror report concluded that everything looked like a murder break-in, since the entire house had been ransacked and stripped of valuables. The sheer brutality with which these criminals acted was quoted as especially shocking.

Hermione put down the newspaper. "I honestly had not expected someone that high on the ladder could get killed by criminals breaking into his house."

"Here's a story about that guy's background. Man, reading this that bloke must have been a real hard-ass," Ron whistled when reading the background of the murder victim. "Guess someone wanted to settle a score with him; there's no shortage of possible suspects."

"If one makes too many enemies with your actions, enjoying whatever you gained from it might be difficult," Luna mused while she continued to read from her own newspaper.

"Some don't seem to be too broken about the news," Harry observed when seeing certain conservative students - the usual suspects - take the news with a look of satisfaction.

"No wonder, despite his questionable methods Crouch managed to lock up a number of Volemort's followers. That couldn't have endeared him to their circles," Hermione explained, having already finished reading about Crouch's career.

It was at this point that Percy joined them. The scars on his face still caused many people to flinch and it had been notable that he had become a bit more aggressive in his behavior, however due to how controlled he normally was it wasn't too great of a change. His disfigurement, as cruel as it sounded, did have one beneficial effect for him, since he now knew for sure who truly cared for him and who didn't. Those that normally sucked up to him now avoided him.

"I read about that. Father actually told me quite a bit about Mr. Crouch. He was a highly controversial character," Percy said when seeing them reading the article. "To think that I once admired that man... after some thinking I realized he was not what I imagined him to be."

"You mean concerning him being controversial even before the whole thing with his son?" Ginny asked, having read that part already.

"Yes, during the war he gained a reputation as 'Judge Merciless' and encouraged things like usage of the Unforgivables in order to turn the tide. During the war that generally was accepted due to the spirit of hopelessness that arose, but after the war and the incident with his son, he quickly fell out of favor and no longer could realize his goal of becoming Minister," Percy explained.

"Guess at the end he was not exactly a man of the people?" Neville guessed.

"Not even remotely. His name was sullied bad enough that regardless what he would have done, there was no way he could have become Minister," Percy explained, then shook his head. "Still, no one deserves this, not even him."

As interesting as this topic was, over the next few days they would forget it, being preoccupied with other things in their lives. After all, how could the death of the head of a rather unimportant part of the Ministry touch their lives in any way?

Little did they know.

to be continued...

Next Episode:

"Plans of the Madmen"


Notes:

Here the notes.

Finally Harry is confronted with Greyback for the first time. I hope I hit the horror vibe correctly as well as the uncomfortable parallels of Greyback to a child molester. This confrontation is what finally allows Harry to manifest his Patronus, which of course is different, as per explanation in the chapter.

It also allowed me to give some more Harry and Ginny teasing - but only a little, since these two as still too young, wait until next year for actual developments in that regard.

I bet the biggest shocker was Percy. Unlike in canon, instead of Bill it's Percy who got his face scarred. That of course will tank any career prospects at the Ministry thanks to Bigotry. However, his courage in the face of danger most certainly gave him Penelope's love.

We see more of Snape running the Dueling Club and that the Chamber of Secrets is used for it - after all it's underground and thus perfect for such an activity since it's far away from other students.

I hope Voldemort is giving of enough nightmare vibes, especially with how he's treating his horrible acts like an everyday activity. Thanks to having more manpower at hand, Voldemort also can acquire Barty right away and gather ressources. Crouch Snr. in turn becomes the murder for Nagini's horcrux (after all, I imagined Voldemort wanted it to be an important one).