As you can see, I'm still slowly whittling away at this fic. It's not first priority right now, but I refuse to abandon it. I have an idea of where it's going, but it's taking a while to get there.
Under the hill, under the stone,
No one can touch me for I am alone,
No one can reach me, no one can dare,
No one can love me, and I do not care.
I do not care, for I am a stone,
No one can touch me for I am alone.
Under the hill, under the stone,
Shadows behind me, shadows ahead,
Shadows inside me, the quick and the dead.
No one beside me, no one can see
I am alone with the shadow of me.
But I do not care, for I am a stone,
No one can touch me, for I am alone.
Do not be sorry, do not bemoan,
I do not care, for I am a stone,
I am a boulder, I am a crag,
I am a mountain, a massif, a slag.
And I do not care, for I am a stone,
No one can touch me, for I am alone.
-"Under the Hill," Pay the Piper, Jane Yolen
Harry grunted with effort as he fought to keep panic from choking him. "Hermione," he said, voice noticeably strained.
"I'm trying," she wailed, her brown eyes wild as her wand moved in a blur.
Ron wriggled hip deep in some sort of quicksand spell. "I'm slipping," he croaked, his knuckles white where he gripped the end of a large branch. Harry held the other end, the only thing keeping them from losing Ron. The red-head jerked once, letting out a shriek of fear. "Something just brushed up against me!"
"Oh," Hermione moaned.
"Hermione!" Harry bellowed as he saw Ron's face drain of all color.
"There!" the witch shouted in triumph as the third member of their trio popped out of the quicksand. Blood and mud streaked the lanky wizard's legs, but he seemed otherwise unhurt.
"Aguamenti," Hermione incanted, directing the water to rinse off the filth coating Ron, and used her other hand to put the hard-won cup in her beaded bag. "There, that should –" She was cut off by Harry throwing himself at her and roughly shoving her to the ground at almost the same time as a low, hollow sound.
"Harry, what on earth…"
"Oh, Merlin," Ron moaned, taking in the state of his best mate. Harry's side was completely soaked in blood, as if something large had tried to take a bite out of him. His skin was an unhealthy grey color, waxen and sweaty with pain.
"Trap," Harry murmured almost inaudibly.
"Trap? What trap? Where was the trap?!" Hermione demanded hysterically, tears clouding her vision. This was far beyond any of their capabilities to heal, but she tried anyway. Healing spell after healing spell, but they all seemed to dissipate the moment they touched the wound.
"Don't you see?" said Ron of all people, unable to tear his eyes away from Harry's dying form. "When I escaped the sandpit. You-Know-Who must have prepared for that and set up something else. Where is it?" he said urgently, eyes darting around the area. "Is it still around?"
"Spell," Harry moaned.
"H-Harry," Hermione whispered, a trembling hand barely brushing against his forehead, as though he could break if she so much as breathed on him.
"Dammit, mate," Ron said hoarsely, impotently slamming a fist against the ground. "Don't die. Don't you dare die."
"S'ry," Harry murmured, eyes closed. It hurt so much. He just wanted it to go away.
"Don't be sorry!" Ron screamed, anger and fear so closely intertwined he was hardly sure of what he was feeling. "Just live! Fuck this! Whoever gave us the information on the location of the cup could have at least told us about the traps!"
A burst of phoenix song startled Ron and Hermione, the two hurriedly wiping at their watery eyes and drawing their wands in case this was yet another of the traps the Dark Lord had set around Hufflepuff's cup. A flash of fire, and a very familiar, very magical creature appeared before them.
"Fawkes!" Hermione nearly sobbed with relief. "Help Harry. Please!"
Fawkes trilled and settled down next to the injured boy, bending his head and crying large, crystal tears onto the torn flesh. Almost immediately, muscle and skin began to knit together, until only the faintest of scars remained. Harry blinked, sighing at the relief from excruciating pain. His clothes were soaked with blood, and he was weak from blood loss, but he would live.
"Thanks Fawkes," he said sincerely, reaching out a hand to scratch the bird's feathered head. "You saved me again."
Fawkes nuzzled his hand and chirped sadly.
"I know," Harry murmured sympathetically. "I miss him too."
Ron and Hermione showed remarkable restraint by not immediately strangling him, but the moment the phoenix was not in their way they fell on Harry with sobs of relief, holding onto him tightly as though he would disappear if they didn't.
"Oh, God," Hermione sobbed. "I was terrified you were going to die. After everything we've been through, everything we've done, I thought you were going to die."
"C'mon mate," Ron muttered, freckles standing out in contrast to his still pale face. "Let's get you cleaned up, yeah?" He began scourgifying Harry's clothes, and conjured water so that Harry could clean up his skin. Meanwhile, Hermione dug into her bag and pulled out two vials of potion.
"This one's blood-replenishing, and this one's pepper-up," she said handing the potions to her dark-haired companion.
"Merlin, 'Mione, you think of everything," Harry commented admiringly.
"Don't call me 'Mione," she snapped automatically.
Ten minutes later the trio had mostly recovered and was ready to go. Fawkes chirped to gain their attention. He hovered in the air, his long tail feathers extended in their direction.
"I think he wants us to go with him," Harry said as they paused.
"Should we?" Hermione questioned nervously. She liked plans. Going forth into the great unknown was not exactly part of her character.
"If we can't trust a phoenix, what can we trust?" Ron asked, and the three teenagers reached out as one to grasp Fawkes' tail. Fire engulfed them, and they found themselves far from Russia's frozen, barren north.
The group had appeared in a deserted alleyway minus one phoenix, and emerged onto a bustling street whose pedestrians were chattering away in a foreign language. It didn't take too long to find someone who spoke decent English, and the trio was shocked to find themselves in Tomoeda, Japan.
Tomoeda actually sounded familiar to both Harry and Hermione, though they couldn't remember why. Since Harry was still recovering, Hermione and Ron decided to explore, to get an idea of the kind of place they were in and where they could spend the night while they decided what to do next. Meanwhile, Harry would sit at a small table outside of an out of the way café near a park and he would rest. He was not to leave, to draw attention to himself, to be attacked by Death Eaters, to be nearly killed, to be confronted by the Dark Lord, or any other strenuous or potentially dangerous activity, according to his two traveling companions. Otherwise, there would be consequences.
After suitably ominous and stern expressions, Ron and Hermione memorized the name of the café and the street corner, and wandered off.
Harry scowled and wondered if he could trade a silver sickle or two for a drink. He wouldn't really, though. That was probably against some wizarding rule and they couldn't afford any negative attention. The frustrating thing was that he was still feeling the effects of his brush with death, so he couldn't fault the two for being protective.
He sighed and leaned his head back, rubbing at his temples. What were they going to do now? Why did Fawkes bring them here?
Harry didn't know how long he sat like that when he heard a voice say in tones of shock, "Potter?"
He leapt to his feet immediately and spun around. Anyone who recognized him was a potential threat. For a moment Harry wondered who the man before him was. Then his sight seemed to shift, and he registered the distinctive sallow skin, intimidating stance, and black eyes of Severus Snape. He looked strange in Muggle clothing, but even so Harry wondered how he had not recognized him immediately.
"You," he hissed, and lunged for the man, rage clouding his good judgment. His wand was out, a spell on the tip of his tongue, and Snape seized the wrist of his wand hand.
"Not here, you idiot boy," the spy snarled, and dragged the wildly struggling wizard out of immediate sight.
"Going to kill me, you coward?" Harry panted, face flush with fury. "Deliver me to your psychotic bastard of a master?"
"Shut up!" Severus roared behind a silencing ward. "Shut up about things you have no knowledge of!"
"I know everything I need to," the Boy-Who-Lived sneered. He opened his mouth to continue his tirade, still held at bay by Snape's superior strength, when a familiar, kind voice interrupted them.
"Harry-san? What are you doing here?" Sakura asked curiously, taking in the scene with a somewhat disapproving glance at her uncle, who ignored it. She had felt the trio's magical arrival immediately and set out to find the cause of the disturbance. Severus had gone out quite a bit earlier, heading for the park so that he might have space to clear his thoughts. Sakura guessed that stumbling across the so-called bane of his existence had not calmed Severus-ojisan at all, never mind that he had somehow been recognized by said person.
Harry's eyes darted from Snape to Sakura and back again. "You've been helping him," he whispered, his face taking on an expression of betrayal. "How could you? How could you help this murderous scumbag?!"
"If I were in your position, Potter, I would hold my tongue! It's a wonder you aren't dead yet."
Harry flinched, reminded quite suddenly of his most recent near death experience.
"Harry-san," Sakura said soothingly, taking a small step forward as though approaching a cornered animal. "I assure you, there is more to this than you know. Come with me to my house, and we can discuss this in privacy. Anyone who is with you is welcome as well."
"How do I know this isn't a trap?" Harry demanded. He wanted to be furious, wanted to rage and scream and curse Snape until he bled, but some part of Sakura's calm seemed to seep into him against his will.
The three of them turned at the quiet voice and met the gaze of a slender brunette.
"Konnichiwa, Rika-chan," Sakura said with a bright smile.
"Are you all right?" the teenager queried with a considering glance at Harry, who despite Snape's firm grip on his wrist had clung to his wand. He thought he saw the Japanese girl hesitate at the sight of the length of wood before focusing again on Sakura's relaxed figure.
"Everything is fine, Rika-chan. It's just a little misunderstanding, but thank you for your concern."
"Are you certain?" Rika persisted, and Harry was quite offended that she appeared to consider him a threat to be defended against on Sakura's behalf. Sakura was the one harboring a Death Eater, for Merlin's sake! "I have more than enough time to accompany you, if you would like."
"I'm sure," Sakura nodded decisively. She was sincerely touched by Rika's desire to protect her even in the face of the unknown. "But thank you for offering."
"Then I shall be off," Rika said with a bow that was returned by Sakura and, to Harry's shock, Snape.
"Give my regards to Terada-sensei," Sakura said with a smile.
Rika brought a hand to her cheek as she blushed. "Hai, I will," she managed to reply before continuing on her way.
"If it makes you feel better, I swear on my mother's grave that we mean you no harm," Sakura said as soon as she was sure Rika was out of earshot.
Ignoring the part of his brain that screamed he was much too trusting, Harry went with his instincts and nodded. "All right," he said quietly, and Snape released his arm.
"Weasley and Granger are probably somewhere around the town," Severus said tonelessly. "I shall await your return at the house. I doubt my presence will encourage either of them to come with you."
Sakura nodded. "All right. I'll see you soon, Severus-ojisan."
He strode off without a backward glance.
Harry glanced suspiciously at Sakura out of the corner of his eyes. There must be some sort of explanation. There had to be. He had been friends with Sakura ever since she had saved his life. There was not a cruel or deceitful bone in her body. He didn't want to believe she was capable of harboring a traitorous spy without some other explanation.
"Ron and Hermione were supposed to come back for me at the café whenever they were done exploring," was all Harry said.
"We shouldn't wait," Sakura replied with a thoughtful frown. "The longer they are out in the open, the more they will be noticed. Tomoeda should be fairly safe, but I'd rather not take chances."
"But I don't know where they are," Harry said.
"That's all right. I can sense them. Your wizard magic is so very flashy when you use it. Even the weakest of spells is like looking into a light bulb."
"What do you mean?" Harry asked startled. "Sense them? Our wizard magic? What?"
"I will explain when we get to my house," Sakura said, emerald green eyes slightly unfocussed. "Now, let's go."
He followed her through the streets, sucking through an alley or two, as she followed something he could not sense.
"How did you arrive here?" Sakura queried absently as they walked.
"Fawkes, you know, Dumbledore's phoenix? He showed up just in time to save my life, and then when we had recovered, he just flashed us here. He didn't even come, or at least not that we could see, Harry replied quietly, not wanting to be overheard by the Muggles in the street.
"Ah. Did Fawkes bring you of his own accord, or did Dumbledore-sensei ask him to?" Sakura wondered aloud.
Harry stumbled. "I don't know. Why would he tell Fawkes to bring us here?"
"Because my friends and I can help you. We can protect you, and I believe he also hoped we might train you a bit, teach you a trick or two to survive," Sakura murmured thoughtfully.
"How?" Harry demanded. "You're not that much older than we are, why does he expect so much of you?"
"But it's not much really," Sakura said with a troubled frown. "It doesn't require much of our effort at all. We have the ability to do much more, but because of our laws it is not allowed. I try to stretch them as much as I can, but I of all people cannot break them."
"I don't understand," the wizard said warily. "What are you?"
"I am a sorceress," she said simply, pausing in front of a small grocery store.
"Ah," said Harry in tones that said he didn't know what that meant but he would pretend he did. It lasted only a few moments before curiosity took over. "What does that mean?"
Sakura giggled. "I'm sure Ron-san and Hermione-san could tell you a bit more, at least where the legends are concerned. But I'll explain at my house. Now, why don't you go in and get them?"
She nodded toward the doors of the grocery store, and Harry was startled to see his two best friends through the glass.
"All right," he said, and quickly slipped inside. He came upon them arguing in low, heated tones and rolled his eyes. The constant arguing was just a part of their friendship it seemed, no matter how it drove everyone around them up the wall.
"Hey guys," he said cheerfully.
The two jumped in fright and whirled around.
"What are you doing here?" Hermione hissed.
"Guess who found me and led me to you two?" he said without answering, and nodded toward the front door.
Ron and Hermione followed his gaze, and their eyes widened in surprise. Sakura waved at them from outside the store, grinning happily.
"What's she doing here?" Ron wondered.
"She lives here, of course," Hermione replied. "Still, that was a stroke of luck that she happened to find us."
Harry coughed and looked away. "She invited us to stay at her house. Says it will be a safe place to stay, and she has some things to explain to us." He decided it was better not to mention Snape where they would make a scene in public.
"Are you sure, Harry?" Hermione asked.
He nodded, and Ron and Hermione followed him trustingly as he led them to where Sakura waited.