Another chapter for you guys…
It had been a rather turbulent summer for Harry, one he found he'd had little time to reflect upon until it had come to an end and he found himself once more returning to Durmstrang.
For much of it, he'd been busying himself with his homework and pondering what had happened during his venture into the Chamber of Secrets, and though Galanis had told him not to, he couldn't ignore the changes he felt within himself.
He'd understood what the healer had told him; his logic toward the magic of basilisk and thunderbird being sound, and seemingly correct.
Already, Harry felt a stronger connection to his Elemental Magic and wielded it with much more ease than he ever had before.
His parselmagic also seemed much easier to access, but it had been his thoughts on the effect of Fawkes' magic that had occupied Harry's mind.
'It could also mean that you are less likely to become sick and heal quicker from injuries.'
Being unable to resist putting the theory to the test, Harry had done so and had been astounded by the results.
Before going to bed only a few nights prior, he'd used his wand to cut quite deeply into his leg and watched in fascination as the wound bled for less than a minute before sealing up and forming a thick scab.
When he had woken up in the morning, all that remained was a faint pink line of a scar, all but proving Galanis's thoughts on the matter.
Not that Harry would be pushing the theory to its limits.
If the small abrasions he received healed so quickly, he would be more than content with that.
He wasn't about to purposely break his bones or wound himself further to test the ability.
Still, despite all of this, it had been the last thing they had discussed that had plagued him most, and something Harry still lacked answers to.
Even after the letter he'd received this very morning from Galanis, Harry would not pretend to understand what the anomaly the healer had discovered was.
Dear Mr Potter,
I apologise for how long it has taken me to write to you regarding my findings during our last meeting. I wished to be able to fully explain to you what it is I found, but unfortunately, for the first time in my long career, I am truly stumped.
I suspect, as you yourself speculated, that the anomaly within you is indeed a product of sorts from the night the Dark Lord attempted to murder you, but I do not believe it is connected to the magic of your mother's protection.
No, this is indeed something else entirely.
Although I am unable to currently identify what the magic is, I will continue my investigation with the promise that I will explore every possible avenue to ascertain its origin.
What I can confidently and categorically assure you of is that this magic is no danger to you. On the contrary, I strongly believe it is benefitting you, and could perhaps be the reason you survived your unplanned ritual.
You indeed did die, but this piece of magic did not, and I am of a mind to say with some certainty that it assisted in anchoring the magic that brought you back.
Nonetheless, we will continue to monitor you as planned.
You have my apologies for being unable to offer you answers of clarity, but this indeed something unprecedented.
Do feel free to write or visit with any questions you have.
It was frustrating to not have the answers he sought, but Harry was grateful for the time the healer was taking to help him identify the anomaly, though he suspected the man would not find the answer on his own.
Harry had been considering it carefully, and even if he couldn't identify what it was either, he strongly suspected it was the reason he'd inherited the parseltongue ability, and even the many visions he'd seen throughout his life.
The magic was undoubtedly an essence of Voldemort of sorts, a realisation that made Harry equally repulsed as he was curious.
Despite the fact that the Dark Lord had murdered his parents, there was no denying that the man was quite the wizard in his own right, and to have something of that his own magic was feeding off, Harry was grateful for the unintended gift.
Nevertheless, he could not allow himself to be consumed only by what had and was happening within him.
To distract himself, he'd visited Sirius a few times over the summer, and it appeared that the man truly was trying to make amends, something Harry was willing to give him the opportunity to do.
Sirius was fun to be around, didn't take anything too seriously, and wanted only to be a part of Harry's life.
Yes, he'd made mistakes and found himself in Azkaban for his foolishness, but Harry had no doubt his godfather was indeed innocent of the crimes he'd been imprisoned for.
He'd loved Lily and James Potter, and the pain in his eyes when he spoke of them was not something that even the greatest of actors could fake.
No, Sirius may have been guilty of negligence and acting rashly, but Harry believed the man when he declared that he would have given his life for theirs.
The relationship between the two of them was still a work in progress, but Sirius was certainly doing his all to strengthen it.
Pushing the thoughts of his once wayward godfather aside, Harry smiled as he recounted his visit with Lucinda.
They had talked, they had danced, and Harry had evidently made quite the impression on Draikon who had insisted he remained with them as long as he wished.
Harry had stayed for only a few days but planned to visit longer next time.
His hand drifted to his chest, but not the scar he often felt to remind him of his near death, but to the pendant Svetlana had given him upon his arrival.
'No, it is yours to keep,' Draikon insisted when Harry attempted to return it to him. 'You are welcome here whenever you wish, Mr Potter.'
It was quite the gesture, and one that was gratefully received.
Harry had enjoyed his time amongst the vampires. However, before he allowed his thoughts to be consumed by his time with the clan, they inevitably shifted to the previous day, and perhaps the most interesting meeting of all.
Gellert Grindelwald had not been what Harry had expected at all.
Nurmengard was quite the imposing fortress and had once played host to hundreds of prisoners during the years of Grindelwald's rise, but now, it housed only one man.
"There's nothing to be nervous about," Cassiopeia assured Harry.
"I'm not nervous," Harry replied, gesturing for her to lead the way to where the infamous Dark Lord was kept.
They walked in silence to the highest cell of the prison, and Harry found it hard to associate the old, rather frail man that greeted them with one of the most powerful wizards in recent history.
Grindelwald was thin, and what remained of his grey hair was scraggly and limp. The gleam in his blue eyes, however, was prominent and spoke of a man of wit and intelligence.
"You must be Harry," Grindelwald greeted him with a toothy smile, offering a slightly trembling hand.
Harry tentatively accepted the proffered limb.
He had spoken the truth when he said he wasn't nervous, but Grindelwald was undoubtedly someone to be cautious around.
He had plunged much of the world into war, and though he was in no position to do so now, there was always a potential for danger where men like him were concerned.
"I can't say I ever expected to meet you," Harry replied. "Just about everyone believes you are dead."
"If Albus had the guts to do what he should have, I would be."
Harry nodded his agreement.
He would not be attempting to lock Voldemort up when the time came for them to meet.
The man would suffer unspeakable agony before Harry granted him the sweet release of death.
"Why have you been helping me?" Harry asked, seeing no reason to stand on ceremony.
Grindelwald smiled once more.
"I respect bluntness," he mused aloud. "Albus could never speak freely without his blasted riddles and skirting around difficult topics. Let me ask you, Harry, why do you think I would help you?"
Harry's gaze shifted towards Cassiopeia and Grindelwald chuckled.
"Partly," he agreed. "I would help Cassiopeia with anything that is in my limited capability to do so, but not entirely in this case. I have my own reasons, one of them being your grandfather, Charlus."
"Oh, he was certainly no friend of mine, quite the opposite in fact," Grindelwald explained. "We met numerous times on the battlefield as he opposed me, and though I will not pretend that he did not cause me endless amounts of headaches and frustration, he earned my undying respect. He even gave me a souvenir to remember him by," he added, pointing to a thin, purple scar beneath his right eye. "I daresay that if Albus had not intervened when he did, it would have been myself and Charlus Potter that the war would have perhaps been settled on."
"I didn't know that," Harry murmured. "That's not spoken of in any book I've read on the war.
Grindelwald snorted derisively.
"Books will only provide you with limited information," he pointed out. "No, you should always consult the people who lived through events if such a thing is possible. The point is, the respect I have for your grandfather, and my fondness for Cassiopeia are the reasons I initially agreed to help you."
"Despite us never meeting, Cassiopeia has kept me informed of your progress, of the young man you are growing into, and all the ups and downs you have experienced. For one locked away as I am with so few visitors, it means a lot to have heard of you these past years. I do not merely feel obligated to help you, but I want to. I wish to see you live through what is undoubtedly coming your way, for you to thrive whilst your enemies perish. That is why I am helping you and gave you everything I could to see that you are successful."
"The spells and the hidden rooms at Durmstrang."
"And the wand."
Harry frowned; the cold feeling of the wand Dumbledore had given making itself known as it was mentioned.
"It belonged to you."
Grindelwald shook his head.
"No, it never belonged to me nor Albus even though he won its allegiance," he explained. "The Elder Wand can only truly be wielded by those it was intended for."
Gellert seemed surprised that Harry knew that name, but he composed himself quickly and laughed heartily.
"You are a sharp boy," he praised. "What do you know of the Peverells?"
"Not much," Harry sighed. "I know that I am related to them."
"Their blood flows through your veins," Grindelwald confirmed, "as does their magic."
Another wave of cold washed over Harry.
"That's why Draikon said my magic is familiar to him," he whispered thoughtfully. "He is an old vampire that told me he was caught hunting by a Peverell in Britain, but he was spared. He seemed surprised I was related to them."
"Because it is believed that they died out," Cassiopeia interjected.
"But they did not," Grindelwald pointed out. "The reason I say is that the wand did not belong to me, is because it belongs to you."
"Is it truly the Elder Wand?" Cassiopeia questioned.
"It is," he confirmed. "Isn't it, Harry?"
Harry removed the wand from the holster he kept it in.
He had not taken much time to familiarise himself with it as much as he probably should have, but the way it felt when he held it spoke volumes to how compatible it was to him.
Swallowing deeply, he nodded.
"It is," he confirmed. "I also have the cloak, but not the stone."
"You have the two that are most useful," Grindelwald pointed out, "but uniting all three would be for the best."
"Then I'd be the Master of Death?" Harry snorted.
"Perhaps not," Grindelwald said dismissively, "but with magic like this, we can never be certain of what will or will not be. I expect the results of doing so will be quite extraordinary."
"Do you believe the story?" Harry asked curiously.
"Of the three brothers? I do," Grindelwald confirmed. "I have seen wondrous things in this world, Harry, some terrible and some truly marvellous. If there is magic that gives life, does that not mean there must be an equal opposite? We have creatures such as phoenixes, and dragons. Is it so hard to believe that Death exists as a sentient being?"
Harry cautiously shook his head.
"I don't think it can be dismissed," he agreed. "I'm just not certain that I would be considered his champion if I united them."
"Something neither of us can be certain of until you do so," Grindelwald pointed out. "Regardless, the wand and the cloak are both very real, and can offer significant advantages to you. I urge you to familiarise yourself with them intimately. Your blood is the key for the wand to work as it should. Voldemort is an exceptionally dangerous man, Harry. Never underestimate what he is capable of and willing to do to be victorious."
Harry nodded his understanding as he slid the Elder Wand back up his sleeve.
"I won't," he said firmly. "But him and his followers should not underestimate what I am willing to do. I am not Dumbledore. I have no intention of capturing anyone when the time comes."
Grindelwald nodded approvingly.
"Good," he praised. "Now, whilst you are here, why don't you show me some of the things you have been working on from what myself and Albus provided you with?"
Harry had been unsure of how he felt having been unwittingly tutored by Grindelwald since his schooling had begun. The name was mud at Durmstrang, not only because of his uprising in Europe and the many that had died because of it, but also because he was one of only a few people to be expelled from the rather liberal school.
Nonetheless, Harry was pragmatic enough to understand just what an opportunity he had.
Despite all that Grindelwald had done, there was no denying that he was indeed an exceptional wizard. Amongst the very best of his generation.
Having spent a few hours under his tutelage during his visit with the man, any doubts that Harry had were no longer present.
He would be a fool to not accept the offered help.
In only a few hours, he had learned so much from the Dark Lord, and would only become better the more time he spent with him.
Not that it was something he would discuss with any other.
The revelation alone that Grindelwald still lived would likely cause an uprising of sorts, and the man would be dragged from his cell to face the justice of the mob.
Harry could not allow that, not when Grindelwald would be so useful to him.
"There you are," Summerbee huffed as she peered into the cabin Harry was occupying. "Why didn't you wait for us?"
"Sorry," Harry offered with a sigh. "I had a lot on my mind and just wanted to board the ship."
"Is something wrong?"
Harry shook his head as the others entered, and his mood brightened immediately.
Lucinda he had seen over the summer, but none of the others, and now that they were here, he was able to not focus on all that had happened and had been plaguing him over the past couple of months.
"Rough transformation, Wolfie?" he asked Cain with a frown.
The werewolf shrugged.
"Something like that," he murmured.
He looked more tired than usual, the bags under his eyes darker than Harry had ever seen, but the boy offered him a reassuring smile.
Harry made a note to himself to talk to Cain later when they were away from the rest of the group.
Something was bothering his friend; of that he had no doubt.
"How was your Summer, Bumblebee?"
Eleanor narrowed her eyes at him.
"You know I don't like that name!"
"That will only make him call you it more," she pointed out. "You get used to it."
"Thank you, Princess," Harry replied.
Lucinda bared her fangs at him in irritation.
"It's not too soon to put you in your place."
"Promise?" Harry returned with a wink.
"Just get a room, will you," Eleanor huffed.
"I've seen her room," Harry announced. "It's cold in there."
"You've seen her room?" Cain asked curiously. "Now this I have to hear."
"I visited Princess during the summer," Harry explained with a shrug.
"You visited a vampire clan?" Cain scoffed in disbelief. "You must be out of your mind."
"This is Harry we're talking about," Summerbee pointed out. "You didn't visit me."
"Or me," Jonas piped up.
"Well, I wouldn't expect you to visit me," Cain chuckled. "My lot are less friendly than any vampire clan."
"I am here!" Lucinda growled.
"So, did you finally turn him?" Ana giggled.
Lucinda rolled her eyes as she folded her arms.
"Of course not," she grumbled. "I couldn't think of anything worse than having him around forever, even if my mother really likes him."
"Most of the others liked me," Harry interjected. "Your mother just has an extra soft spot for me."
"Only because you flirt with her!"
"I do not," Harry denied.
"It's like watching an immature, married couple," Cain commented. "How the hell did you end up visiting a vampire clan? It's not like they're very accommodating to anyone, especially humans."
"I was invited," he answered simply.
Cain frowned as he looked towards Lucinda.
"Our clan leader was interested in meeting Harry, so he was allowed to visit."
"And I can go back any time I like," Harry added, showing the talisman Draikon insisted he kept. "I might ask your mother if I can move in for the whole of next summer."
"You will not!" Lucinda warned.
"Oh? You weren't so mean when we were dancing together."
"You danced together?" Ana questioned.
Lucinda finally crumbled and hid her face in her hands.
"I'm going to kill him," she declared.
"She's a good dancer," Harry continued, undeterred by the threat. "Honestly, I enjoyed my time there, even if most of them looked at me like I'm a snack."
"To us, you are a snack," Lucinda reminded him.
"I forgot about that," Harry chortled.
The others shook their heads at him.
"How could you forget they see you as food?"
"Well, she hasn't tried to bite me," he replied, nodding towards Lucinda.
"Not yet I haven't."
Harry offered the vampire a smile.
He truly had missed this whilst he'd been away at Hogwarts for the previous year, and he was very much looking forward to returning to Durmstrang where he would be with his friends.
"Well, when are you going to visit me away from school?" Eleanor asked.
"Is this you inviting me?"
The blonde nodded.
"Then I will come whenever you like," Harry answered.
Eleanor smiled brightly.
"My grandmother will love you."
"Watch out, Harry might just flirt with her," Lucinda warned.
"No, if I did that, your mother would be jealous."
Lucinda growled as she launched from her seat and grabbed the chuckling Harry by his collar before wrestling him to the floor.
"Well, it's been a while since I found myself here," he sighed. "You're really hurting my ribs."
Lucinda was gazing at his neck hungrily, her eyes flashing brightly as she did so.
"It has been a while," she agreed breathily. "Remember, one day, I might not be able to restrain myself."
She released him and stood, and Harry took a few deep breaths, nursing his torso as he stood, his smile unwavering.
Yes, he had missed this, even the regular death threats from the vampire.
Cassiopeia scowled as she spotted the beetle crawl under the door to enter the room. As instructed, Rita Skeeter had been keeping her abreast of the goings-on in Britain, but until now, her reports had come via post.
Rita, however, had insisted that they needed to meet to discuss something of importance, something the journalist was not comfortable putting in writing.
As such, Cassiopeia had rented a private room in the Hog's Head, ensuring that none could hope to overhear anything discussed between them.
A few privacy and security spells had seen to that, and she could not help but notice that Skeeter looked much more nervous than usual after she had transformed.
That could merely be attributed to the woman's position of being beholden to herself and Harry, but Cassiopeia suspected there was more to it.
"Thank you for seeing me," Skeeter sighed. "I have come across something that will be of interest to you but could be dangerous to know. Fudge is certainly doing all he can to cover it up."
Cassiopeia's curiosity was certainly piqued and she gestured for Rita to continue.
"Barty Crouch has been admitted to St Mungo's."
Cassiopeia snorted as she shook her head.
"I do not see why this will be of interest to me."
"Usually, I would agree," Rita replied, "but it is the nature of his admission. He is in the Janice Thickey ward. I don't know how familiar you are with Barty. He may be many things, but he has always been of sound mind. For him to find himself there, something significant must have happened."
Rita nodded worriedly.
"He is claiming that he has been under the Imperius Curse of his son."
Cassiopeia frowned in confusion and Rita huffed irritably.
"Crouch only ever had one son, and he died in Azkaban several years ago," the latter explained. "It caused quite the stir when it was revealed that he was a Death Eater."
"A Death Eater?"
The news certainly took Cassiopeia by surprise.
"At the time, Crouch was the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement."
"He locked up his own son?"
"He did," Rita confirmed. "Barty has always done everything by the book, which makes everything that has happened only more suspicious. He is now claiming that as a dying wish for his wife, he switched his son out of Azkaban for her. Fudge is having none of it."
"Do you believe him?"
"I do," Rita replied severely. "I've seen him. He is unwell from his ordeal, but he is not a raving lunatic. Fudge is keeping him guarded. No one is allowed in other than healers."
"So, the Minister wishes to keep him quiet," Cassiopeia mused aloud.
Rita nodded her agreement.
"It gets worse," she sighed. "Earlier today, Fudge met with Lucius Malfoy. The two are close, as you know, and the Minister saw fit to discuss the matter with him."
"Then Crouch Sr is all but dead," Cassiopeia murmured thoughtfully. "Both Crouch's are a loose end for him that he will wish to keep silent, unless he was already aware of the son's status."
"He did not seem to be surprised or alarmed when Fudge told him," Rita explained.
"Then he knows," Cassiopeia huffed. "Which means that he has either been in contact with the son, or worse."
Cassiopeia shook her head.
"Think nothing of it for now," she insisted. "There is more danger to this knowledge than you can possibly know. If I were you, I would mention it to no one."
"I wasn't planning to," Rita snorted humourlessly. "I brought it to you because I believed you would wish to know."
"I am grateful," Cassiopeia offered, pondering just how she could use the information.
"Do you believe Malfoy will have Crouch killed?" Rita asked.
"Undoubtedly," Cassiopeia replied bluntly. "His alleged involvement with the Dark Lord is well known. If Crouch Jr is recognised publicly and he is apprehended, Fudge will not be able to prevent a public inquiry. It is too risky for Lucius to risk."
Rita grimaced at the thought.
"You seem to be rather calm about this," she pointed out. "Are you not aware of the circumstances surrounding Crouch Jr's arrest?"
"I can't say that I am."
"Then it will only become more of an interest to you as it could possibly mean that Harry is in danger."
"How?" Cassiopeia demanded immediately, tensing at the insinuation.
"It wasn't until after the war and many of the Death Eaters had been put on trial that he was identified," Rita began. "Bellatrix and the Lestranges had been sent to Azkaban the week before along with the other prominent supporters who did not manage to avoid being prosecuted."
"Someone identified Crouch as a Death Eater," Cassiopeia deduced.
"Exactly," Rita confirmed. "Almost all had refused to name any others, but that changed during the trial of Igor Karkaroff."
"Karkaroff identified Crouch?"
"In front of the entire Wizengamot whilst being questioned by Barty Sr."
Cassiopeia cursed under her breath.
"So, he will likely go after Karkaroff."
"I would not put it past him," Rita sighed. "Crouch was identified as one of the Death Eaters that tortured Frank and Alice Longbottom. He admitted it and to killing several muggles along with some witches and wizards."
"And he would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for Karkaroff," Cassie mused aloud.
Durmstrang as a school was as safe as any place could be, but if Crouch had broken free and made contact with Voldemort, which certainly was not beyond the realm of possibility, Rita could very well be right.
Harry could be in grave danger.
Karkaroff was now a liability to him, and Cassiopeia could not let that stand.
"What was Crouch's reaction when Karkaroff identified him?"
"He wailed like a child," Rita answered. "He called for his mother."
"That doesn't sound like someone capable of murder."
"It doesn't," Rita agreed. "What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking that the man is mentally fragile, and any time amongst the Dementors would not have done him any favours. It is hard to imagine he managed to hold onto much or any of his sanity."
"I would say that he was already far gone during his trial," Rita responded darkly. "He said nothing until he was given the veritaserum, and after the effects had worn off, he laughed openly about what he had done. There was no remorse."
Cassiopeia hummed, tapping her finger atop the table whilst she considered her next course of action.
"I don't suppose anyone will be looking for him."
"According to everyone other than the Minister and those in the know, Crouch Jr is dead and buried," Rita clarified.
Cassiopeia shook her head.
Crouch being on the loose was not good.
The man was likely as unpredictable as he was dangerous and were he to somehow gain access to Durmstrang and Karkaroff, it is likely he would seek Harry out also.
Cassie's jaw tightened at the thought.
"It is unlikely that any of this would be believed without evidence," she murmured. "For now, I'd like you to see what else you can dig up for me. Look into the Crouch's and keep an eye on Fudge and St Mungo's. I do not think the latter will yield much, but it is best to cover all basis."
Rita nodded her understanding as she should.
"What will you do?" she asked curiously.
"Whatever I deem to be necessary to keep Harry safe," Cassiopeia vowed darkly.
Rita swallowed deeply.
"I will be in touch with anything I find," she assured Cassiopeia before transforming into a beetle once more and crawling out of the room via the bottom of the door.
Cassiopeia remained where she was for some minutes, mulling over everything she had learned in the past minutes.
She could not say for certain how likely the worst-case scenario she had considered was a plausible outcome, but where Harry was concerned, she was taking no chances.
Taking her leave of the Hog's Head, she nodded to herself, a plan already forming for how she could mitigate this latest, unwelcome development.
Albus furrowed his brow as he attempted to read over the latest exam results his received from Madame Marchbanks.
They had been on his desk for several days now, but with the recent meeting he'd had with Cornelius still plaguing his mind, he'd not been able to focus on them.
As he had done many times in the days since, his gaze shifted to the still empty portrait he was awaiting the occupant's return of, and he shook his head.
The headmaster had begun making discreet enquiries about Barty Crouch, but he had been unable to glean any new information from what the minister had given him.
As he had suspected, few had been made privy to what had happened.
On his behalf, Alastor had spoken with Amelia Bones who merely believed that Barty was taking an extended leave of absence for his health.
For the time being, Amos Diggory had indeed been placed in charge of the Department of International Magical Cooperation as per Albus's suggestion, a small victory on his part, but a victory, nonetheless.
Madame Umbridge would not be pleased by the appointment, but with her newfound ambition to become a member of staff at Hogwarts, Albus did not believe she would stew for long.
It concerned the headmaster still at how determined the woman was to find herself within the walls of the castle, but until she managed to find a way to do so or he believed she was close to achieving it, he would put it to the back of his mind.
No, Madame Umbridge was not what was concerning Albus in this moment. It was the claims that Barty had allegedly made during his breakdown.
His attempts to speak with the man had been rebuffed by the healers at St Mungo's, each of them claiming the man was too unwell for visitors. Their words given in a pointed, rehearsed manner.
They were being silenced on the matter, undoubtedly by Cornelius who was seemingly doing all he could to ensure the news of Barty was not made known to the public.
Albus suspected that even now, the minister had regretted informing even him.
Madame Umbridge certainly hadn't wished for it to happen.
Albus was pulled from his thoughts by a gentle cough, and once more, his attention shifted to the portrait that was no longer unoccupied.
"What news, Dilys?" he enquired.
The former, celebrated healer and headmistress shook her head.
"Barty crouch was declared dead this afternoon, Headmaster," she informed him. "I apologise for the delay in reporting it to you, but I wished to establish the facts before doing so."
Albus deflated in his chair, nodding his understanding.
"It is just as I believed," he sighed. "Do you know what happened?"
"Officially, he passed after a short battle with a severe illness," Dilys explained.
"Officially?" Albus pressed.
Dilys's jaw tightened as she nodded.
"That will be the release to the public, but he was killed by no illness," she added firmly. "According to a conversation one of the portraits overheard between two of the healers treating him, Barty Crouch was poisoned. Both inspected his body and drew the same conclusion."
"I suppose the Minister does not wish the truth to be known," Albus murmured. "Did Cornelius attend St Mungo's?"
"His Undersecretary did so, the same woman he visited you with," Dilys explained. "She handed the healers a note with the Minister's seal, and his cause of death of changed immediately."
Albus frowned unhappily.
If Barty was poisoned, then it was done intentionally, but by whom?
"I was told that he was unable to receive any visitors due to his health."
"He was not supposed to," Dilys confirmed, "but according to another portrait that sits above the ward, he did receive a visitor but they could give no description of them. Barty Crouch was found dead less than an hour later, his lips purple and eyes bloodshot."
Albus released a deep, laboured sigh.
"He was murdered then."
"I have no doubt that is what occurred," Dilys agreed.
"Thank you," Albus offered gratefully. "If you discover anything else, do let me know."
The woman offered him a bow before vacating her portrait once more and Albus rubbed his eyes tiredly.
"Is this the world we live in now?" Phineas Nigellus scoffed. "Cowards poisoning people. In my day, we duelled to the death if we wished to settle differences, and politicians were real men. They weren't puppets for the scum of society."
It was not often that Albus agreed with the man, but in this instance, he did.
The political field had always had its share of corruption and unpleasantness, but it had only gotten worse over the past half decade or so in Britain.
Cornelius was a terrible Minister, and several others had come before him.
It was times like this that Albus wondered if he had made the right decision when he had turned down the post.
He shook his head of that thought immediately.
No, being the Minister of Magic was never a position he coveted, but something certainly had to change or the likes of Lucius Malfoy and his ilk would continue to exploit the system for their own gain.
Worse still, they could exploit it for the gain of someone else.
Regardless, the death of Barty Crouch was only the beginning, and if Albus was correct, which he unfortunately was most of the time, then more would soon follow as Tom gathered his strength to resume where he left off.
He needed to be ready, and for that he needed to gather some old friends.
"Fawkes, are you ready to deliver some notes for me?"
The phoenix trilled his agreement, and Albus removed some fresh parchment from the stack he kept on his desk and began scratching away, lamenting on how few of the group remained.
He would need to recruit more.
After all, the Order of the Phoenix could not function with such a paltry offering they currently had.
Harry offered a hand to the scowling girl, and Zabini shook her head before accepting it.
"How do you beat me so easily?" she huffed as Harry pulled her to her feet.
"Not easily," Harry returned. "You've gotten better."
"So have you," Zabini snorted. "I even had extra tuition over the summer."
It had taken less than two hours that he had set foot into Durmstrang before the girl had sought him out to challenge him to a duel.
Strictly speaking, the room was not officially open until the following day, but Zabini had evidently not wanted to wait.
As such, they had the space to themselves.
"You've improved so much," Harry comforted.
Zabini raised an eyebrow in his direction and tucked a few errant strands of dark hair behind her ear.
"How do you do it?" she asked curiously. "How do you become so good?"
"Because I have to be," he answered simply.
Zabini nodded her understanding.
"Well, I feel for anyone who gets on the wrong side of you. We are only duelling using competitive rules. I bet you could really hurt someone."
"I could," Harry confirmed shamelessly. "I've learned things that many wouldn't believe to be possible."
It was true.
Between his own studies, the Black and Potter magic, and everything Dumbledore and Grindelwald had provided him with, Harry wielded a deadly arsenal.
Not to mention all he had gathered from Voldemort.
That was merely the icing on the cake.
"Then I'm glad I do not have you as an enemy," Zabini replied with a grin, the dimples on her cheeks becoming prominent.
With the way she was looking at him, Harry was reminded of what Viktor had told him during their time at Hogwarts.
The girl had once harboured something of an admiration for him that went beyond their shared passion for duelling and judging by the way she gazed at him now, it was not something that had faded.
Harry could not deny that she was beautiful.
She had wavy dark locks, olive skin, and green eyes, though hers were much darker than his own.
At seventeen years old, she had already filled out in all the right places, something that could not be missed despite the robes she wore.
"Well, I don't have any plans of becoming an enemy of yours," Harry assured her amusedly. "I might win in here, but you wouldn't be holding back either in other circumstances. I imagine you know a thing or two."
Zabini's grin widened as she nodded and moved a step closer towards him.
"I might," she answered demurely.
She stood close enough now that Harry caught the faint odour of her faded perfume beneath her natural scent, and he felt his head swim.
It was intoxicating, and the way she looked up at him as though she wished to devour him only made it more difficult to ignore.
All of that came to an end as the door crashed open and the two of them were interrupt by Professor Olaffson.
"This room is off limits until tomorrow," the enormous Icelander said sharply.
"We were just leaving," Harry grumbled, annoyed that the man had chosen an inopportune moment to arrive.
Olaffson glared at them until they exited the room, the moment between them all but ruined.
"You need to watch out for Barkus," Zabini warned. "I don't usually involve myself in things that don't concern me, but he's determined to get you."
"He's always been determined to get me," Harry sighed. "Barkus doesn't worry me."
Zabini offered him a smile before turning away to head towards her own lodgings and seeing no reason to be out later than he already had, Harry followed suit, cursing Olaffson under his breath.
The man was evidently no longer simply content to make Harry's life miserable with physical labour before the sun came up, he now had to interfere in other matters to ensure maximum satisfaction for himself.
"Bastard," Harry grumbled, though perhaps it was for the best that Olaffson had arrived.
Harry did not know what would have happened in the heat of the moment with Zabini, but he could not deny that he had been fully immersed in it, with little thought for anything else.
Now that he was away from it and thinking clearly, he knew he should be grateful they were interrupted, but there was a small part of him that still wished they hadn't been.