Harry had thought very few things could phase him anymore, least of all an old witch too frail to hardly lift her wand. She was in her dressing gown and looked as though she had been awoken from a deep early morning slumber by Harry's knocking. They'd received a frantic call from her neighbor that she was being possessed by something terribly Dark, but standing in her dusty foyer, adorned with waving photos of people that could only be her grandchildren, it was very difficult to believe.

However, there was no doubt that when she spoke, her voice was a harsh rasp that seemed terribly inhuman. Harry wanted to believe that the witch simply had a cold, but the more he spoke with her, the more he dreaded the conclusion that her neighbor had not been mistaken after all. The merest idea that a Dark wizard would possess such a frail woman turned his stomach, and he was reminded too easily of Bathilda Bagshot.

"There'ssss no problem..." the woman hissed deeply. "Asss you can seeeee, all is in order here, ssssir."

Harry nodded calmly in response, but he was secretly wondering if he should call in back-up. In the end, he decided against it. Even if she was possessed by the single most powerful Dark wizard of their age- whoever that may be- her body was still frail, and he doubted she could put up much of a fight. Besides, Ron had said he would meet Harry here, so in a sense backup was already on its way.

Suddenly, even as Harry was trying to decide how to proceed, the woman threw back her head and hooted an unearthly laughter. "It's too bad," she rasped, "That you do not have the blood of the Pharoahsss. This hossst is weak. You seem stronger, but not ssstrong enough to hold me."

Harry froze at that. He understood very little about Egyptian magic. He'd studied some of their curses in Auror training, but never with much intensity; Egyptian curses didn't turn up in London all that often. Bill would have been the person to consult about such things, but he was not here, obviously. Instead, Harry played for time.

"The blood of the Pharoahs?" he asked. "You're a long way from home, aren't you?"

"All issss my home." The old woman's eyes glinted dangerously. "There is chaosss everywhere."

Something about the woman's speech was familiar. It was serpentine, snake-like, and only then did Harry realize that he had been conversing with the woman in Parseltongue. Dread weighed Harry's stomach. In general, snakes were all right, but when it came to Dark Wizards that spoke Parseltongue and inhabited the bodies of old women, he had less than pleasant memories.

"What is your name?" Harry figured the straight-forward approach couldn't hurt.

The woman laughed. "Namesss have power. I am the undying nemesis of Atum-Ra. I encircle the world. You can flee, but you will not essscape me. Try if you must. I will welcome the challenge."

Harry knew he wasn't going to be able to reason with the old woman-snake; his wand was out in a flash and he stunned her. Better safe than sorry, after all. The old woman did not simply faint away to the floor as Harry expected; instead, her body burst into crimson flames and then crumpled to the ground in a pile of ashes. Harry stared, transfixed by a scene he had never witnessed before.

"Well that was overkill, yeah?" a voice said behind Harry. Harry jumped and spun, wand held out before him defensively. Ron threw his hands up. "Hey, mate. Calm down. What happened?"

Harry sighed and gestured with his wand to the pile of dust in front of him. "I just stunned her..." he offered meekly.

"She was being possessed then?"

"Oh yeah. By some Egyptian snake wizard if I got her explanation right."

"Bloody snake wizards," Ron spat.

Harry nodded, but his heart was still racing. Had he really just killed an old lady?

"Can't have been much of a Dark wizard if she erupted after a stunner," Ron observed.

Harry wasn't so sure. "What if it was just a message?" he asked Ron.

"A message to who?"

"Dunno." Harry turned and left the house quickly. Ron followed soon after, but not before prodding the pile of old-lady-dust with his boot.

When they were back in the cool pre-dawn air, Harry turned to Ron. "Are you coming with me?"

"Sure. Um, where?"

"Shell Cottage," Harry answered flatly. "I have a few questions for Bill."