Chapter 56: Floo and Beyond

Albus and I sit at opposing sides of his desk. The Elder Wand lies atop a plush green pillow in it's newly elongated form. I skipped dinner, begging off the crowds, Albus informed me later that the entire Scottish floo system had mysteriously been knocked down during the first task, no reported mishaps.

Albus spends a long while just staring down at the new form of the wand after I finish explaining the happenings in the first task. My brief jaunt to the other realm, along with the disturbing discussion and narrow escape from a dark wizard and a dragon, all in one.

"This is… alarming news." He finally says, breaking his fixation on the wand to look up at me. "If what you suspect is true, the surviving form of Ekrizdis still lurks out there in the aether to this day. Aware of the Deathly Hallows and perhaps their true nature."

"I-" My voice catches in my throat. How can I even explain? "I think he's trapped. Said so himself. To be released, his folly marooned him on the other side. I just tore open a window briefly."

"The Department of Magical Transportation, and the Floo Network Authority, have been scouring the site after the incident, Harry. All news points to no lasting damage, and no reported cases of injury due to the outage. Merely some late arrivals." He assures me. "I may have suggested a lapse in quality regarding the anti-apparation warding, as you were witnessed to be using apparation during the fight. A backlash with such a mighty opponent may have caused a momentary blackout in the Network."

"At least I won't get arrested. Thanks." I spin sideways in the chair, letting my head and legs overhand the arms. "He did speak of 'The Anchor'. Must be the stone. Maybe a way to travel back to our home plane?"

"A good theory. It adds credit to the concept of an afterlife, the soul has long since been theorised to travel onwards after their departure." He purses his lips. "Perhaps the Resurrection Stone simply calls them back for a time?"

"Voldemort would know where it is. Guarantee it."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Tom Riddle had a knack for finding things." I state. "You don't just stumble upon Slytherin's Locket. You don't just figure out how to make Horcruxes. He could find anything he wanted, the git." I itch my forehead briefly.

"The hunt may have to start anew." He runs his fingers thoughtfully along his beard. "To ensure he remains imprisoned, you may need to find the stone."

"The whole 'Master of Death' thing is just a legend, Albus. The Hallows were manufactured by the Peverell brothers, not by death."

"Be that as it may, the trio still represent an incredibly powerful set of items. I now believe that to master the Hallows is to master free walking of these realms, perhaps even to gatekeep our world against the likes of Ekrizdis. Fate has locked him away for good reason. You have said it yourself, Harry, the horrors of Azkaban should be lost to time and forgotten."

"People have gone mad from searching their entire lives for the hallows, Albus." I sigh. "Most who find it lose themselves when they do. Just stories, but when they all meet such grim ends..."

"Then, should you find it, you must be better."

No pressure.

Albus insisted that I should continue to stay within Hogwarts and focus on Tom Riddle's history, whereas he would scour Britain for details. The past few years have shown us both that there as still agents of Voldemort at large and are attempting to bring the faction back into power. The pieces are too clear to ignore, and only Voldemort himself can helm the Death Eaters, which leads us to the conclusion that they are planning to bring him back.

Pacing around the castle following the boy that will grow up to destroy my family, and almost kill me, has been a draining experience. He was a creepy child, and a horrible adult. I see so much of him in me, a very scarred child that doesn't quite fit in the world around him. That dangerous look in his eye, almost predatory, as he talks to other students. Luckily it's something we don't have in common. He seems almost human sometimes, but until I can get into the Slytherin common room, I can't really see what he was like.

Intense study of the newly awakened elder wand has revealed little, other than it's unchanged use as a wand and seemingly deepened connection to me. More responsive to my spells along with a feeling of deep power within. It's only blind spot appears to be trying to locate the resurrection stone or invisibility cloak.

Following the official announcements to each house about the Yule Ball this year, Professor Flitwick passed along a short message to visit Albus' office quickly after, as an unnamed visitor is awaiting my arrival. The visitor in question must've came by floo, as there is no trace of anyone exciting having entered on foot. A couple of quick knocks and Albus has the door swing inwards for me.

"Morning, Professor." I greet him. The man standing by the fireplace beside Albus looks fairly unassuming. A short gentleman, mousy sort of look too him, big glasses perched on his nose. A muggle style suit and a walking stick in his left hand. Mid-forties.

"Mister Potter, this is is-"

"Warren Hornby." The man cuts Albus off and sticks his hand out towards me. I meet his enthusiastic handshake with less energy. "Of the Department of Magical Transportation, Floo Network Authority to be precise." That's probably not good.

"Not here for maintenance on his fireplace, I assume?" I flick my eyes over to Albus while Warren Hornby looks away for a moment.

"Ah, My days of hooking up new fireplaces are long since over." He smiles brightly, exuding a much more confident aura than his appearance would lead me to believe. "No, today I am here to speak with you, Mister Potter." His eyes scan my face very quickly. "Alas, the Headmaster's Office is a busy place, would you mind walking with me? I would dearly like to see the inside of the castle once again. I was in Ravenclaw too, you know?"

"I don't recognise the name, I guess they only keep the trophies for Quidditch players." I give him a smile. I do, of course, know exactly his time as a Ravenclaw from his first step in the common room in 1970 to the last longing look he gave it as he left as a Prefect.

"True as ever. Academia shines brightly all the same. Thank you for your time, Headmaster."

"Fruitful conversation to you both." Albus smiles and reseats himself at the grand desk. Warren motions for us to walk.

"So, what can I do for you, Mister Hornby?" I ask as we reach the bottom of the staircase.

"Just Warren, please." He smiles, walking stick tapping the stones as we go. "What do you know of floo travel, Mister Potter?"

"Not a great deal, I admit."

"Hmm." He side-eyes me. "So that's what you look like when you lie." Bugger. "Now, I'm sure you have an idea of why I am here today. You know of 'Floo Pow', yes? The truth this time, please."

"Floo Pow are the only licensed company in Britain that can produce floo powder." This man is very dangerous. He walks with too much confidence, too sure of himself.

"My job is to act as liaison between The Ministry and Floo Pow, and as such I have gained an insight into the process of it's manufacturing." He explains, continuing to lead me through the castle at a leisurely speed. "Many have tried to mix floo powder with other ingredients, others have used subpar components to try and recreate floo powder, improve upon the design. For many many reasons, none of these experiments have come close." He twists the handle of his walking stick and I tense up. "Just a protection against eavesdropping, Mister Potter." He lets the handle go and a field emits around us for a moment before fading.

"I had a bad history of people trying to surprise me." I reply. "What do you want from me?"

"There is a signature emitted from floo powder, mostly undetectable to the common folk."

"Only specialist tools held by the floo network regulators can sniff it out."

"Precisely." He smiles at me, not unkindly, but too knowingly. "Only official persons, and you." He stops walking and faces me. "It took us a week to figure out exactly what you did, or rather what you had done. Compressing the processed powder into a more convenient pellet, which you can only have done whilst keeping it in a usable form if you had created your own tools to measure the floo effects. A genuis idea, but-"

"You're an Unspeakable." I stop him dead in mid-sentence. "Warren Hornby, class of 1977. Ravenclaw Prefect. Come 1980, you were on page 17 of the Daily Prophet. Newly appointed as a prodigy in the department. 1985; Your name comes up in a missing person report surrounding a mishap with a smuggling ring trying to crack into the floo network. Charges were dropped very very quickly. Had Department of Mysteries written all over it. No other explanation, and no other reason the Headmaster would've let you be here in this capacity without asking me first. He legally had to."

"You are a very well read individual, Mister Potter." Something else creeps into that no longer smiling face. Worry?

"Tell me why you are here, Mister Hornby. Try to intimidate me again and I will make sure those little things that were hidden away for you will come to light on the front page of the Prophet by breakfast." Again, he searches my face very carefully. He takes a moment to choose his words.

"The floo network is set up in such a way that no fireplace can be linked to another until it is requested." He checks his walking stick again. "In a sense, they are isolated from each other until needed. Should damage befall one, the rest are not effected by, and new points can be added to the network without disabling the entire thing each time."

"You talk about the network like it's a place." I watch as he slowly retrieves a brass instrument from his interior jacket pocket. A smooth glass orb sits inside a cage of brass. Shifting cogs and twirling arms sit inside, ticking and spinning to some unknown pattern.

"This is a unique item." He explains. "It measures the effects of floo travel, or more precisely – floo powder. A little twitch here, a little spin there. It allows us to see… anomalies in the network. Dragonfire is magically imbued fire, something that floo powder also does. Unfortunately, these do not mix well. Throw into that cauldron an amateur hoping to place more compression on the powder, and an unknown set of charms for the sake of 'convenience' and the whole things goes up really badly." He glares at me. "Without a fireplace to anchor the opening, you simply punched a hole through space."

"That doesn't sound simple at all." I cross my arms.

"Because it isn't!" He shouts at me. "You caused untold damage to a delicate system, Mister Potter." His composure slides back just as quickly as it snapped. Unnerving, really. "You haven't been as clever as you think. The brightest minds in Britain measure the flow of magic at all times. You've been reckless."

"You'll have to be more specific than that. I tend to get dragged into other people's mess a lot." Out the corner of my eye, I notice the garish robes of Albus and a grey cloaked figure at the far end of the hallway. Another Unspeakable.

"Last year." He continues, straightening up, still holding the orb. "No less than nine counts of your bloody house elf jaunting along with pixies. He cost me a week of sleep just looking into this." He holds the orb up again. The pixie-land? If Dobby was travelling between worlds… As Hagrid said 'Nobody really knows where a pixie goes'. "You travelled during the fight, did you not?" I remain silent. "You punched through to another world, Mister Potter. I have been given the clearance to make you aware, but your face says you already know..."

"Dobby was just visiting a friend of ours."

"Yes, the pixie 'Baxter'." He says distastefully. My blood runs cold. He consults the orb again. "You're immaterial, Mister Potter. The markings of inter-planar travel leave deep scars on those that do so incorrectly."

"There are others? Besides the pixies?" I can't help but ask. I suspected the goblins had a doorway under my flat, but I can't be sure just yet.

"Four that we are aware of, including ours"

"Why are you telling me this?" If they came here to discipline or arrest me, they wouldn't spill secrets like this to me. Floo Pow operate in utmost secrecy. Nobody ever goes in or out of their headquarters. Just boxes of floo powder. It's some real Willy Wonka shit in there. Nobody even knows what they import to make the- "Floo Pow! They have a doorway? They collect the powder from another plane?"

"Bingo." He smirks. "You're a real thorn in our side right now, Mister Potter, but Senior Unspeakables have weighed the options and have decided that if you managed to figure out one of the best kept secrets in the country, then you may be able to help." It's clear that he doesn't agree with the decision.

"Help? With what?" I query. "You've said the brightest minds in Britain are at work. All you've done so far is berate me."

"Our world. The land of the pixies. The Goblin's homeworld, which is where the floo operates, and the Darkness. Those are the four worlds that have ever been detected." Hornby explains. "The first three are simple, worlds that brush against each other, but are not too dissimilar in theory. The Darkness… We have only measured it on certain instruments. Certain artifacts emit an aura, some call it an aura of death."

Again, my mind reels at the possibilities. The Department of Mysteries have a subsection devoted to studying death, always have as far as anyone knows. Rumours of something hidden deep that the ministry was built around.

"You tore a hole, a hole which has now been repaired. But not before something came through." I feel a chill crawl up my spine. Surely not? "We know not exactly how it came, but it came from the Darkness. There has never been a window from their side to here. Only glimpses that it's even out there. The closest thing ever found, and how we came to name it, are dementors. And a brand new one came through your damned window"

I back hits the wall behind me. The doorway under Azkaban. Ekrizdis used it to travel to what he called 'The Realm of Magic'. The dementors came through when he first opened it, but could never return after he set a gate on it. The aura that floo powder leaves behind is evidence of interplanar travel and magics, and there's a damn good chance that the elder wand and cloak give off the same kind. Purple to my eyes, just like the Azkaban portal was. I let a new dementor through by mistake, but Ekrizdis is still imprisoned on the other side.

"Ringing some bells now, isn't it? We spoke to Jessie Jensen, your escort during your visit with Dumbledore and Moody. Says you went deeper for nearly an hour before coming back, then suddenly you've knocked down the entire connection to the floo for Scotland months later? I don't believe in coincidences."

The anti-eavesdropping measures abruptly break as Albus strides through them, placing a hand on my shoulder. I can't look up from the floor.

"As I understand, you have asked young Harry for assistance?" Albus faces the two Unspeakables. "I'm sure he needs time to digest your offer." He is holding a roll of parchment with a broken wax seal of the Department of Mysteries on it. He taps my arm with it as he says my name, giving me insight into him also being cleared to hear about the new issue at hand.

"Of course!" Hornby snaps straight back into his jovial persona. "I await your owl, Mister Potter. I'm sure we can fix this somehow." He turns away and leaves along with the other Unspeakable.

"Albus, I really messed up this time."

"I disagree." He says pensively. "To my understanding, the window is closed. You merely present something of an unknown to them." I look up to see his kind smile. "Do you have a plan?"

I take a deep, steadying breath.

"Find that damned stone. Close the doorways for good, maybe rid the planet of dementors, and destroy what's left of Voldemort." I state confidently.

"Then I suspect a full meal and a trip to the Slytherin common room is in order." He pats my shoulder. "Ours is to be a busy Christmas, Harry."

For the first time in a what feels like months, I really smile.

The Author Notes:

This is my farewell, at least for a time.

Barefoot has been a constant work for the past half decade, and represents a sizeable portion of ideas I have had in this time. Many of the readers here love this story, many hate it. None more so than me. We are all very critical of our own works, and this holds true for my gaze upon Barefoot. I have cherished certain parts of this story, and have been repulsed by others, but I am glad that you have came along this journey with me.

Self growth and exploration has always been a core belief in my life. I enjoy the pursuit of betterment, and the discovery of myself. Barefoot has been a therapeutic experience at times, and felt like a responsibility at others. I love to write and create stories, many of my finest scenes have surfaced in Barefoot and, in general, the story has been a melting pot for a lot of Harry Potter based ideas, good and bad, that I have had through these past years.

In the hands of another, Barefoot could have been something special. In mine, I hope I have at least done justice to the idea. Not always to the best of my ability, but I have always been eager to bring the next section of the story to those among you that wait patiently for the next snippet of Harry's story in this world.

As my experience as an amateur writer has grown, so too has the story. I am ceaselessly humbled and honoured by the sheer numbers reported to me by the story metrics. This burden has frequently made me second guess chapters and entire decisions in storywriting because I wanted to deliver an experience befitting of the popularity. Pressure put upon me by myself alone. The frequent hitch I am messaged about is the Hedwig thing, the idea came from a poll I made many years ago. I am still to blame for messing that up, but I had, in my hubris, wanted to write for the reader, rather than telling a story of my own without the skill and planning to back it up.

Due to the shortness of the chapters I produce here, I usually have a lot more detail and nuance in my head than what ends up in writing, so I would usually have a deeper meaning to conversations than I could really convey in my writing. As noted before, I love to explore ideas, explore relationships and questions of morality. The unreliable narrator that Harry is often disagreed with how I would view the situations. I have received feedback through the years about Tonks' relationship with Harry, often met with disgust due to the age gap and just indecency of the power difference between adult and child. As we only see Harry's perspective in Barefoot, the struggle Tonks had with this was very different to how Harry experienced it. It's wrong, immoral, and importantly illegal. Young people find themselves in this situation, although not always with such a vast gap, and it is a grey area when a relationship starts when both parties are below the age of consent and continues through the years.

My intent was not to encourage this, or romanticise the struggle, but to create a story with the harshness of reality. There is danger, bad decisions, and unfairness in the world. Typically fanfiction seeks to avoid imperfection as idealist characters are created and escapism through writing. I aimed to explore problems around the struggles young people face in the discovery of gender spectrums and sexuality in their teenage years. I admit to have been inspired in no small part by my own teenage experiences, long ago though they were, as I'm sure many writers have been throughout human history.

The more trauma Harry was faced with, the more that stress built up over time. I tried to miss little details from his perception or lean more heavily into psychometric histories instead of focussing on the situation at hand. Due to the month-spanning breaks between writing Barefoot, my skills as a writer would atrophy and I would be less inclined to create in my free time. I can see this effecting the story's style and the gradual shift to dialogue/monologue heavy writing contributed to me being less able to create the elaborate scenes and concepts that I once could.

I can't claim to have done this all on purpose at all times. Sometimes things would just slip in during the writing process and I would adapt them into the story to build a deeper meaning alongside the narrative. Nor can I claim to look at Barefoot as a great work of fiction. It definitely has it's moments, but it is the work of an amateur mind. I love this story. I hate this story. I am proud of what I have achieved and learned in writing it, and can only hope that my writing improves for this hobby in the future, wherever that may lead us.

At the time of writing this, the story sits at a hair over 13k followers, nearly 11k favourites, 227 communities have added the story, over 3k reviews, and the view count sits at over 4.2 million.

Five years ago I wouldn't have ever been able to imagine 13,000 people choosing to follow something I have created, and once more I am truly thankful for everyone that has walked this path with me.

Thank you for reading my story, and my pretentious hiatus letter! I relieve myself of this self-imposed burden of writing for a while, hopefully to recharge my batteries and maybe write some stories guilt-free instead of working on Barefoot!

I intend to start a thread on the 'Hpfanfiction' subreddit just after posting this update as a Q&A session. Could end horribly, but I hope some questions may be answered there.

So, once more with absolute sincerity – Enjoy what you have.