Title: Pendragon's Apprentice (preview)

Author: Aina Song

Fandom(s): Harry Potter/Howl's Moving Castle

Warning(s): None.

Author's Note: I am hereby announcing a contest for my readers. I have three very brilliant Harry Potter crossover story ideas, but am stuck on which one to finish and post first. I will be posting previews for all three in their correct crossover categories, but if you cannot find them, feel free to visit my author page for a shortcut. The story ideas are: The Lyrium Ghost, a crossover with Dragon Age 2; Pendragon's Apprentice, a crossover with Howl's Moving Castle; and Tsk, Tsk, a crossover with Supernatural. The preview with the most votes will win the draw, so please remember to leave a review for the one you deem most worthy of my attention.

When at last Harry dreamed, it was of a dark and endless space, with no beginning, no end. No up or down… no forward or back. Just a bottomless black abyss. And yet the boy felt not cold nor afraid. Wisps of an even darker shadow occasionally reached out and brushed against him, their touch cool and almost damp… like dew on a late spring morning.

What is your name?

The voice seemed to whisper from behind his shoulder, but when he turned, he found no one. Yet he recognized the deep timbre quality of that otherwise smooth voice- as though the throat that spoke it had once suffered from smoke inhalation, or from swallowing something dangerously hot.

So he answered. "Harry. My name is Harry." As an afterthought, he wondered, "What's yours?"

There was the whisper of a chuckle, and though Harry turned around again, still he could not find its source. I am called Howl. Would you like a friend, young Harry?

Harry thought about the boy at the zoo who had almost smiled at him, and remembered the hints of pink that had touched upon the pale blond's cheeks as they'd stared at each other. He did not know why, but his heart raced at the thought of maybe seeing that boy again someday. "Yes," he breathed in answer. "Where are you?"

I will find you.

"Can you free me?" Harry quickly asked, before he could be left alone again. "Will you take me away?"

The shadow around him seemed to pause in careful curiosity. After a moment, the stranger's voice asked, Would you regret anything left behind? Your family, perhaps. Your home.

He shook his head, "They're not mine." When the voice did not respond this time, Harry fidgeted and grew nervous. "Sir? Mister Howl?"

But the only answer he was given was a sharp rapping at his cupboard door, jarring him from his dream.

~o~

Harry was let out, the next morning. He swallowed a painted groan as he slowly hefted himself up from the floor, his every movement stretching his back beyond the stiffness left over from last night's punishment. The inside of his throat burned, and his face felt flushed… he knew he must have caught another fever during the night. Yet he said nothing to his aunt, who hovered outside his cupboard door; did not even meet her eyes as he stepped out into the hall. Saying anything would have earned him nothing.

His relatives were preparing for an important luncheon today with Uncle Vernon's boss. Which meant a morning of extra duties added to his usual chores: Laundering and ironing their Sunday best; stocking the two bathrooms with fresh towels, shampoos, and colognes; polishing and re-lacing their good shoes; and, finally, washing and waxing the car. And even while he was doing all that, he was still expected to make their breakfasts, scour the kitchen until it shone, and dust the not-so-antique fixtures in the parlor room.

And he had to fight a fever and the stiffness in his back to do it. Only afterward would be permitted to shower and dress in fresh, albeit oversized and moth-eaten, clothes.

Aunt Petunia treated him to her squinted glare as she watched him cook their breakfast, her pressed-thin lips seeming ready to screech out in judgment if he so much as slouched even a little before the stove, or drip the smallest dollop of butter on the counter. Dudley seemed to think this a grand game, as Harry's cousin would often poke at him with his Smelting stick in attempt to get him to make a mistake. Uncle Vernon had his face buried in the morning newspaper, but that did not stop him from praising his son's "cleverness" every few minutes.

Every second of Harry's morning was put to use. He made sure to fly through his onslaught of chores, as his relatives always demanded them done in a timely manner, but was careful not to slack on even the tiniest detail, as they also demanded perfection. At nearly eleven years old, Harry had much practice at this - even with his cousin Dudley seeking entertainment by randomly undoing something Harry had managed to get done and forcing poor Harry to search through the entire house to find and repair the damage before moving on to the next item on his to-do list.

The time for the luncheon appointment was drawing near. Harry was only a handful of minutes behind schedule - Dudley's last prank had succeeded in setting him back a bit longer than had the others - and was now polishing and re-lacing Uncle Vernon's shoes around the large man's feet.

"Hurry up, boy," his uncle barked impatiently. "And get to your cupboard when you're done."

Harry tried not to wince too visibly at the order. No shower or clean clothes, then, to help him nurse his fever. He would have to wait until they'd returned, and that could be hours.

Giving a meek nod of his head, he obediently knotted his uncle's laces and left for his cupboard, shutting the small door behind him. Darkness embraced him, making the sound of a lock snapping into place ring even louder in his ears. He could just hear the rumble of an engine as the car pulled out of the driveway and was gone.

Harry sighed. His back complained painfully as he adjusted himself and lay once more upon his stomach. He was fevered, he was hungry, and after so busy a morning he was exhausted. Pillowing his arms beneath his head, he closed his eyes and let himself drift off, hoping at the very least to sleep some of the fever away.

He was roused by a soft knock at his cupboard door, a rather gentle rapping which barely disturbed the wood. Harry lifted his head, staring. Slivers of blue light broke the darkness in bright streams around the edges of the door. Harry curiously reached a hand under one such sliver of light, catching its glow on his upturned palm, but then quickly drew back again as another tapping came from outside the cupboard.

And then, from the other side of the door and sounding very real for a dream, whispered that increasingly familiar timbre. Harry? Are you all right?

Harry's heart raced within his small chest, and he swallowed passed the hope choking his next breath. "M-mister Howl? Is that really you?"

Are you hurt? Can you come to the door?

The boy pushed awkwardly to his elbows, and then to his hands and knees, turning toward the door. "I-I'm all right…"

I'll ask again, little one, and this time you must not try to hide the truth from me. Are you hurt?

He bit his lip, his racing heart slowing to a painful thud behind his ribs as he realized the depth of the man's question. He was not being asked whether he had hurt himself getting into the cupboard. The question encompassed all the hurts that peppered his so very young life. Bright green eyes stinging wetly, Harry set free his pain with one whispered word:

"Yes."

The voice grew even quieter, gentler. Are you broken, little one?

A vision of pale grey eyes swam to the surface of his mind, and he clung to it desperately. "No, sir. Never."

Then open the door, Howl instructed, the hint of a smile in his words now. And step into my world.

"But…" Harry's eyes darted down to where he knew the knob was set on the other side of the door. A knob he didn't have, here in the shadows of the inside. "I-it's locked."

Don't be afraid. Put your hand to the door, and push.

Wanting so much for something to believe in, the boy sucked in a deep breath and nudged his palm against the wood of the door. And then gasped aloud as it gave easily before his touch, swinging outward, letting in a flood of blue light that brightened into a world of white.

~o~

Sitting alone in his office, Albus Dumbledore frowned in stark alarm as one of the trinkets on his desk began to glow fiery bright with the magic that hummed within its shell, before suddenly shattering into countless shards of white-hot brass and crystal.

... And that's it. Preview over. Review below, and cast your vote, if you wish to see your favorite of my three Harry Potter crossover previews become a reality!