A brutal wrench tore Harry from the maze’s centre. He hit the ground hard, bouncing across it onto his knees. The cup and his wand spilt from his hands and skittered away into the gloom.
The cup’s a portkey? He shrugged and pushed himself to his feet, ignoring the soft throb of new bruises. Good. They’ll be able to get to Fleur sooner.
A thin, grey mist curled around his feet; it hung around and over rows of pale tombstones.
This isn’t Hogwarts. Harry’s heart plummeted into his stomach. He tried to apparate away to the chamber, but when he stepped forward, the world remained still as stone. Fuck.
The mist billowed past his feet, drifting from behind him. Harry grimaced and swivelled ‘round. A bright-faced witch with curly brown hair smiled at him over the top of a very large cauldron. The mist spilt from its top like froth over the sides of a mug.
‘Hiya Harry!’ She tipped the brim of the blue beret perched upon her curls. ‘Nice of you to join us.’
Us? He glanced round. Royal plural, or has she been possessed by another item from Voldemort’s stationery cupboard?
‘Do I know you?’ Harry asked.
‘Oh no, Harry, you don’t know me.’ She giggled. ‘Nobody really knows me. I’m just the talkative, cheerful witch who listens. My name’s Bertha Jorkins.’
‘You worked for Crouch.’ Harry searched every thin spot in the mist for his wand. ‘I remember your name coming up at the World Cup. You disappeared.’
‘Sorry, Harry.’ Bertha Jorkins waved a familiar piece of ebony in the air. Thick, black ropes leapt from his wand, pinning him to the nearest headstone.
‘For the briefest moment I hoped I was wrong,’ he quipped, straining at the ropes.
‘Well, you weren’t!’ She laughed. ‘You see, when I left Hogwarts, I wasn’t good enough to get where I wanted to go. I didn’t even want that much, you know. Just enough to live on. Something interesting to do. Nobody noticed me in the war, though I helped Barty Crouch by keeping an eye on a fair few suspicious members of the ministry and was responsible for the capture of more than one Death Eater. Not one person ever thanked me for it, you know. Not even Barty Crouch.’
Harry tried to twist his wrists free. ‘That actually doesn’t surprise me, Barty Crouch doesn’t seem like a great person.’
Bertha flashed him a pair of dimples. ‘I learnt from it, though. I learnt that knowing secrets and using them for other people’s good gains you nothing, not even gratitude, and I refused to repeat my mistake. I kept making friends even when things calmed down, I’ve always been good with people, you see. Someone who listens can be invaluable and you learn all sorts of things if you listen long enough. One day, I came across something very interesting indeed. My oh-so-perfect, principled, head of department Barty Crouch had snuck his son out from Azkaban. I meant to blackmail him, but I needed proof, so I went looking.’
‘I’m sure that went well,’ Harry muttered.
She giggled. ‘Barty Crouch Junior was not what I was expecting. He was nothing like his father at all. I found a young wizard driven to madness by Azkaban and the Imperius Curse of his own parent, and emotionally-scarred by his father in the years before. In the few moments of lucidity he gained, he’d tell me about his master, the one who recognised his value when his father and the world deemed him worthless.’
‘You believed him?’
‘Not to begin with,’ she admitted. ‘The Dark Lord was supposed to be dead, but then, his servant came and found us.’
‘He was still alive?’ Harry gasped with mock horror and tested the strength of his bindings.
They’re actually not that tight. He struggled with the desire to tear himself free. Wait for the right moment.
‘He was very much alive.’ Bertha tittered. ‘He showed me that I was not so useless with magic as I’d come to believe. He taught me that I was simply thinking about things the wrong way. I could always listen to people, get them to trust me, to talk to me, to do what I want. I never guessed I would have such a talent with the Imperius Curse, one that even the Dark Lord respects.’
‘He taught you a spell, so you fight for him?’ Harry blinked. ‘That’s all?’
‘He respected me for the one thing I know I’m good at! That’s why I follow him, because nobody else ever did that for me! And what does all the rest matter? Barty Crouch fed a whole host of innocent souls to the dementors, people he only half-suspected. The Dark Lord’s killed no more than a few dozen wizards… And always fighting fairly, too.’
‘He’s lying to you.’
‘You aren’t going to convince me, Harry. I’ve come too far to turn back even if I wanted to, and I don’t.’
‘What have you done?’ Harry squirmed his fingers free. ‘I assume the disappearance of Crouch was you?’
‘Yes. Yours truly.’ Bertha smirked and tipped her beret at him. ‘He was too suspicious. When I vanished and Barty died free of the curse, he began to connect things other people couldn’t. I waited as long as possible to make it appear an unrelated event, but he had to die the moment Pettigrew went missing. I assumed, mistakenly in the end, that he’d captured Pettigrew, or, if someone else had, Crouch might learn enough to stop us. It took so much planning to get you here, Harry.’ She laughed. ‘We spent hours devising a plan just to get your name in the goblet. So many complex pieces of magic, all destined to be ineffective. Ludo and I struggled terribly. Of course, it hardly helped that I had to keep him under the Imperius the whole time.’
Bagman. Bagman could get to Fleur. A cold chill gripped his spine. No. She’s safe. The ice thawed from his blood. The Withering Curse will protect her.
‘So how did you do it?’ Harry wriggled his right hand free of the ropes. ‘You can’t lie to the goblet. And I certainly didn’t enter myself.’
‘Ah, you did your research.’ Bertha Jorkins laughed. ‘We failed a fair few times, but we did notice that the goblet’s fire flared each time we tried, so Ludo and I waited until the names were being pulled out. We cast one more confundus charm on it after the other champions were chosen and the goblet flared up. A well-prepared piece of parchment, a Levitating Charm, and a Disillusionment Charm, and Albus Dumbledore thought he was holding the name of the fourth champion.’
‘I didn’t even have to compete, did I?’ Harry shook his head. ‘And there I was looking for some complicated way to hoodwink the goblet.’
‘The Dark Lord explained that Dumbledore would see through any complicated piece of magic that truly got you entered, but might overlook something simple. It wasn’t worth the risk to tamper too much, either.’ Bertha shrugged her shoulders. ‘I can’t say I disagree. The goblet would’ve probably ripped the magic right out of us if we’d tried anything more than what we did.’
Harry nodded and slipped his right arm free. ‘Well, don’t let me stop your explanation. What about the cup?’
‘A simple portkey. Ludo popped it on its plinth and I waited inside the maze and placed the Imperius Curse on the Diggory boy after he ran in. We just needed to wait for him to deal with the other two, then you’d arrive.’ Bertha Jorkins flashed her dimples at him again. ‘Which brings us to what we’re really doing here waiting for you.’
‘We?’ Harry asked. ‘I hope you mean Ludo Bagman, but since he’s quite hard to miss and these tombstones aren’t that broad, I’ve a nasty feeling you don’t.’
‘We.’ The sibilant whisper of Voldemort’s shade echoed from somewhere nearby.
‘Hello, Voldemort.’ Harry tugged his other arm free and gathered the ropes binding his chest into his hands. ‘Where are you?’
‘You’ve learnt some manners,’ the wraith whispered. ‘No more chatting, Bertha. It’s time.’
‘Yes, master!’ Bertha waved Harry’s wand at the cauldron and bright flames sprang up around it.
I’d really rather whatever that cauldron’s for didn’t happen. He shifted his weight and tensed himself to spring.
The fires guttered out. Bertha frowned at Harry’s wand.
‘Use your own,’ Voldemort hissed. ‘It will not matter anymore.’
She nodded, tucking Harry’s wand into a pocket and withdrawing a short, thick piece of what looked like hazel.
The cauldron fires relit and the surface sparked, releasing a scatter of glowing orange pinpricks every few seconds. They drifted across the nearby gravestones like fireflies, following the mist that fled from the heat of the flames.
Bertha Jorkins bent to the floor on one side of the cauldron. Harry shoved the rest of the ropes over his head and tossed them away behind a headstone. She stood back up holding a hairless, scabbed thing with leprous, slimy skin, then lowered it into the cauldron.
Please drown. Harry’s heart pounded against his ribs. Whatever that is, Voldemort or not, please let it drown.
‘Bone of the father,’ Bertha sang. ‘Unknowingly given, you will renew your son.’
The ground at Harry’s feet cracked open and a stream of white dust flew into the cauldron. Orange sparks exploded off the surface, then it turned a poisonous blue so bright it seared Harry’s eyes.
‘Flesh of the servant.’ Bertha’s voice trembled. ‘Willingly sacrificed, you will revive your master.’ She produced a gleaming silver knife from her robes, placing her left hand on the edge of the cauldron. ‘Sacrifices have to be made,’ she breathed, and brought the blade down on her wrist.
Blood spurted. Bertha screamed, her half-severed hand hanging over the potion. Harry held his breath. Bertha let out a strangled sob and hacked her hand free. It splashed into the cauldron and the liquid rippled a raging red.
Now’s my chance. I just need to get my wand back so I can overpower her. Voldemort’s just a wraith.
‘Blood of the enemy.’ She staggered toward Harry, blood oozing from the half-cauterised stump of her arm. ‘Forcibly taken, you will resurrect your foe.’ She lunged and lashed out.
The blade’s tip drew a line of fire across his cheek.
Harry jumped to his feet and ripped his wand from Bertha’s robes. It bounced into the mist. Bertha rolled away from him and tossed the knife into the cauldron with a whimper. The potion flared a blinding, shimmering white. Steam poured off it, forming a thick creeping blanket of fog.
Something tall stepped toward him through the mist.
Too tall to be Bertha and with way too little curly hair. Harry scrambled for his wand. Where did it go? He thrust his arm out to summon it.
A long-fingered, pale-skinned hand snatched his wand out of the air in front of him. Voldemort’s serpentine, slitted, red eyes stared down at him. Misshapen features and translucent, blue-veined skin surrounded them.
‘Where are you going, Harry?’ A thin smile crossed Voldemort’s colourless lips.
‘Back to Hogwarts?’ Harry pushed himself back to his feet.
I’m stronger now. And he doesn’t know. All it takes is one moment and I can escape.
‘I don’t think so,’ Voldemort whispered. ‘I can understand why you’d want to return there, Harry. It feels like home to begin with, a new world, a place where you belong, but then that world turns out to be no better than what you thought you’d left behind. You’ll see that soon enough, if you haven’t already.’ Voldemort’s lips curled back in a cold grin. ‘I didn’t just want you here for the ritual, Harry. There were easier ways to get your blood, even if it needed to be taken against your will and still be fresh. No, you’re here to bear witness to my return.’ He crooked a long finger at Bertha. ‘Bertha…’
‘My Lord,’ she murmured, stumbling forward clutching at her arm.
‘Your arm, Bertha.’
She proffered her unharmed limb towards her lord. ‘Sorry, my lord,’ she whispered as Voldemort pushed up her sleeve.
Really? Harry’s eyebrow shot up.
Voldemort’s lips crooked.
A black tattoo of a snake entwined within a skull throbbed upon her upper forearm, bulging half a centimetre from the skin and writhing beneath its surface. Voldemort studied it and pressed his long, pale forefinger into her skin. Bertha’s fingers curled into a fist and she squeezed her eyes shut.
A host of dark cloaked figures appeared around them in a series of loud cracks and pops.
How did they apparate in? Harry attempted to apparate out again, picturing the chamber, but remained rooted to the spot. There must be some kind of ward. Bertha must’ve set it up.
‘Ah.’ Voldemort sighed. ‘My family returns. My friends. My so very loyal followers.’
The circle of robed and masked figures surrounding the two of them trembled. Bertha Jorkins snatched her beret off the floor and stumbled away into one of the many gaps.
‘It feels just as it did thirteen years ago.’ Voldemort’s smile twisted into something cold. ‘Only then you had not betrayed me, not abandoned me, not forsaken the oaths you swore to stand beside me.’ He whirled on the nearest Death Eater. ‘Lucius, you were content to continue following the old ways, having your fun at the World Cup, but never did you search for me.’ Voldemort ripped the silver skull mask from Malfoy’s face and prowled the circle. ‘Crabbe, Goyle, Nott, all of you have forgotten the words you said when I gave you your marks. You are hale, healthy, and enjoying the full comforts of your powers just as you have been for the last decade.’
‘Master…’ The stooped figure of Nott quailed. ‘Please, master.’
‘Silence,’ Voldemort hissed. ‘These gaps, these are where those who truly stood with me have their place. Those who never renounced me, were never disloyal; those who are in Azkaban and those who are dead.’ He stalked around the inside of the circle, bare-foot, his robes whispering along the ground. ‘You have disappointed me, you have all disappointed me gravely…’
A trembling figure stepped out of the circle and prostrated themselves before Voldemort. ‘Please, master,’ he begged. ‘Forgive me, forgive all of us, we were afraid.’
‘Forgive you.‘ Voldemort’s voice turned cold as ice. ‘Get up, Avery. Stand next to me, like you swore you would.’ He reached out and took Avery’s chin between his thumb and forefinger. ‘You ask for my forgiveness? I do not forget. I do not forgive…’
Of course you don’t. Laughter burst through Harry’s lips.
‘You find their betrayal funny, Harry?’ Voldemort’s slitted pupils bored into him and he turned away. ‘I suppose I might find the similarity amusing too, were I in your shoes.’
Harry cleared his thoughts of everything but the circle of dark on the white page.
Voldemort released a soft laugh. ‘I will have my repayment from all of you. A second chance to prove you meant the words we spoke together when you took my mark. When you have fulfilled your debt to me, we will stand alongside each other once more and remake this country in our image.’ He moved back to the centre of the circle. ‘Perhaps, though, some of you feel that Avery was right? That there is a reason to fear. Dumbledore, that champion of the undeserving rabble, walks in your nightmares, or maybe you even fear Harry Potter…‘
A sinking feeling crept back into Harry’s gut.
‘Bertha,’ Voldemort commanded. ‘My wand.’
‘Of course, my lord.’ She passed a long, pale wand to Voldemort. ‘Is that all, master—’
Voldemort caught her by her severed wrist. ‘You have never asked for repayment for the sacrifice you made to restore me to my body, such loyalty is admirable.’ A hand of shimmering steel spun from the end of his wand, attaching itself to the stump of Bertha’s arm.
‘Thank you, my lord,’ she whispered, flexing her shining fingers. ‘Thank you.’
‘Back you go, Bertha,’ Voldemort said. ‘Your reward is not for your devotion, but for understanding that no follower of mine need ever beg what they deserve from me. Only those who suffered Azkaban rather than renounce me will be more exalted than you.’
Malfoy’s face twisted into a grimace as if he’d just choked down an entire barrel of lemons.
‘Now.’ Voldemort turned back to Harry, spinning his ebony wand around his fingers just as he had spun Harry’s holly wand in the chamber of secrets. ‘I shall prove to you, my friends, that there is nothing to fear, not from Dumbledore, and not from his pawn.’
A shard of ice formed in Harry’s chest. I’m nobody’s pawn anymore.
Voldemort extended Harry’s wand back to him, a cold smile on his face. ‘Now, Harry, we duel, and you die, just as you would’ve done thirteen years ago had your mother’s magic not interfered.’
I don’t want to die. The numbness clawed at Harry, seeping back into his heart like cold water overflowing from a drain. I’m not going back to that. I refuse to disappear. I refuse to die. I refuse to lose.
Voldemort stepped back to the circle edge. Harry mirrored him, his weight poised on the balls of his feet. Voldemort inclined his head, folding at the waist.
Harry reciprocated, throwing a glance at the glowing triwizard trophy. Is it still a portkey? Will it take me back?
‘Crucio,’ Voldemort whispered.
Harry threw himself to one side, then back when a second red curse hissed through the air. I can survive. I can escape.
His wand burst into warmth, the heat flooding up his arm. ‘Osassula,’ he murmured, sending the curse at Voldemort.
He batted it aside. Harry unleashed a hail of them.
‘Such dark magic, Harry.’ Voldemort circled around the edge, swatting every bone-splintering curse and hex into the ground around him. ‘What would that old fool Dumbledore say?’
‘There’s no such thing as dark or light,’ Harry quipped. ‘There’s—’
‘Only power.’ A cold grin spread across Voldemort’s lips. ‘I did not truly expect you to listen, Harry, when I told you that three years ago.’
‘I didn’t listen.’ Harry threw every spell he knew at Voldemort and steeled himself, dragging up the cold little ball of hate in his breast. ‘There’s only intent.’
Harry bathed the circle of Death Eaters in Fiendfyre. The cloaked figures scrambled out of the way as tombstones, grass, and even the cauldron were consumed. Voldemort’s serpentine eyes studied him though the hungry, red flame, even as the fiendfyre twisted back around his wand at Harry, swirling into a serpent’s maw.
Nope. I am not being killed by my own spell. Harry’s wand flared red at the tip and the fiendfyre roiled down into the ground, billowing out of existence in a wave of searing heat.
‘Perhaps,’ Voldemort murmured. ‘There was something to that prophecy after all.’
‘If you were anyone else, save that old fool Dumbledore, I would offer you a place within my inner circle, Harry.’ Voldemort gestured to the ring of Death Eaters reforming around them.
‘I’m already within your inner circle.’ Harry pointed at them all with the tip of his wand.
‘Indeed you are.’ Voldemort’s lips curled in amusement and the pale wand flashed up.
The graveyard dissolved into a hail of curses.
Harry threw up his shield charm. It shattered like puddle ice beneath a boot. Tombstones disintegrated as the curses hissed past him and a red beam of light struck him in the stomach. Searing pain wracked his body, crashing over him, and he crumpled into a ball.
Voldemort lowered his wand and the pain faded. ‘A taste of the pain I endured that night at Godric’s Hollow, Harry.’
Harry rolled himself over and pushed himself to his feet.
‘Again, Harry?’ Voldemort stalked back and forth before him. ‘For the pain I suffered at your hands when you killed my servant Quirrell, perhaps?’
The yew wand came up.
‘Papilionis,’ Harry muttered.
A swarm of butterflies curled out of the air, a handful veering out of the swirling demi-sphere. Voldemort’s cruciatus curses burst into wisps of black smoke.
‘Avada Kedavra,’ Voldemort hissed.
Another wisp of black smoke drifted through the air between them.
Harry flicked his wand, transfiguring a single butterfly into a steel spike and sending it flying across the circle at Voldemort. He side-stepped and the steel fragment hissed past him.
A small gasp of pain echoed from behind Voldemort. Bertha Jorkins collapsed to her knees holding her neck. Bright, crimson blood spurted out past her shining, silver fingers as she blinked up at Voldemort.
‘Master,’ she pleaded. Great gouts of blood drenched the left side of her robes and spattered on the ground. The beret slipped off her head and flopped to the dirt. ‘Master, please.’
Voldemort’s eyes never left Harry.
‘I told you,’ Harry said.
Bertha giggled, gasped, blinked and fell still.
She’s the third person I’ve killed.
‘Now, you’re no different from us, Harry.’ Voldemort glanced down at Bertha’s corpse. ‘Dumbledore would tell you you’ve stained your soul.’
Ice spread across his chest. The glowing red eyes of the boggart gleamed in memory and something stirred in the void beneath the cold. Ink black eyes rolled open and focused, their slits as slim and sharp as swords.
‘She’s the third servant of yours I’ve killed, Voldemort.’ His wand snapped up, summoning the portkey cup to him. He caught the cold metal handle in his left hand.
‘Why would we make it a two-way portkey, Harry?’ Voldemort’s mirth made his crimson eyes glow. ‘Who did you think we were going to be sending back?’
Bright green light flashed from Harry’s wand.
Voldemort apparated a few metres to his right with a soft snap and the killing curse spattered against one of the stubs of the tombstones.
He apparated. Harry froze. Bertha’s dead. She was the one who made the wards. She’s dead. The wards are gone.
‘So you do have the intent to kill,’ Voldemort hissed. ‘Who then of my followers have you killed? For who else’s sake shall I kill you?’
Harry weighed his options and dragged what remained of his magic forth to the surface. ‘Barty Crouch Junior and Peter Pettigrew.’ He threw a handful of bone-splintering curses at Voldemort.
‘Pettigrew, perhaps.’ Voldemort deflected Harry’s curses with a shining silver shield composed of thousands of tiny serpents. ‘He was a poor wizard, occasionally useful, but mostly pathetic. Barty, on the other hand, was talented. No fourteen year old could have beaten him in a duel, even after the time he spent in Azkaban. How do you claim to?’
‘Like this.’ Harry slashed his wand across his chest toward Voldemort.
A hazy basilisk maw shimmered through the air and slammed into Voldemort’s shield. It shattered like glass, sending him staggering backward and down to his knees.
Time to go. Harry clawed the rest of his magic out and seized hold of the first place he thought of. Silver hair and blue eyes danced before the eye of his mind.
‘Legilimens,’ Voldemort spat as Harry twisted.
Voldemort’s thoughts crashed into his own, tearing the intent and emotion of the spell he’d cast from him. Harry struggled for the circle of dark ink, but Voldemort latched onto the feeling of the basilisk spell and followed it like a piece of rope. Eleven hollow years of empty memories with the Dursleys flashed before Harry’s eyes. With them came an orphanage filled with sneering children and disdainful peers who abhorred the hated world he’d left behind.
I was nothing once, too. A smooth, high voice welled up amongst his thoughts.
Silver flashed before Harry’s eyes and he smashed into something so hard the world swirled to a halt, bursting into darkness with an explosion of bright, white sparks.