Chapter Three – The Bones of the Potions Master

The night wore on in the Druidstone, the two Alans having long since finished their chess game, their ales, and Bryan the old proprietor offering them, as he always did, rooms for the evening to save them the storm-treacherous coastal path home. For a wonder, the two men agreed—perhaps sensing something not quite well with that particular night—and were sleeping the sleep of the happily drunk upstairs, after devouring a rack of Moira's Welsh lamb, hot and greasy from the old cast-iron burner, between them.

Which left just Professor Dumbledore, unhappily drunk, and his depleted bottle of odd whisky, sitting alone at the bar. Bryan began to make a show of bolting the windows, closing the shutters, dousing the lamps. Soon he'd offer the old professor a room, as he had done for Alan and Alan. And at no charge, no charge, sir, not on a night as wild as this in the off-season.

Albus Dumbledore considered the bottle of Firewhisky before him and sighed. On his left, Josiah of the Avarice—his personal demon made manifest—shuffled a deck of dusty old playing cards, playing catch-rummy for points against himself. Albus had joined him for a few hands, deep into his cups now, but Josiah had been oddly silent since Harry had departed for worlds beyond these.

Ashamed despite the carefully crafted necessity for his drinking, Albus cradled his ruined and cursed hand against his chest and despaired. He knew the influence of the Avarice was partly to blame for his mood, but fools them all that evening, and one didn't blame the wandmaker for misuse of the wand.

The winemaker for misuse of the wine…

"I recall you being far more talkative, in my youth," Albus muttered. The bottle held only about two finger's worth of aged poison left, and still he wanted to see it off, knock it back, order another round. Fifty years since his last drink, and the old tolerance of the drunk stole over his mind if not his body.

Josiah, the demon's face as withered as Albus's hand, grinned. He stood. "I've come to a decision. If you'll excuse me, I must make a… long distance call."

Albus grunted and uncorked the bottle a final time. The rim shook against the edge of his glass as he poured himself the last few amber drops. He sat the bottle back on the bar with a heavy thunk. An angry sense of finality.

"A call?" Albus asked when the demon returned.

"I have… allies in the Land of Faerie who would take it remiss if I failed to disclose of young Mr. Potter's arrival. He'll be quite the force for change, I'll wager. Folk must be warned."

"I have sent him to his death," Dumbledore whispered, aghast, caught in the avarice of his addiction.

"He has been sent to such before and made it back to this side of the veil," Josiah said, almost consolingly. "Have another drink, Albus. Keep your mind from dwelling."

Night didn't fall in the Land of Faerie, so much as the pink-orange swash of twilit sky dwindled to a more bruised purple. Stars, distant yet bright, dotted the canvas above, and a fat green moon rose in the west. The impossible curve of the land bothered Harry more than he cared to dwell on. The faltered perspectives, something he would get used to in time, were almost dizzying when focused upon—inviting motion sickness.

The Hermione-Fae had steered him on a path along the cliffs, heading north first before cutting toward the glittering kingdoms under warring rule, the silver cities of faerie. He was anticipated, she had told him, and would find friends on the road as well as enemies.

Harry had walked with Charlie a goodly way that day, until his legs told him he was tired and his body clock admitted that the hour was past his bedtime. From within his satchel, he withdrew a folded tent which sprang up on its own—much bigger on the inside, two bedrooms and some basic plumbing—and made camp in a copse of trees, a cosy glade, away from the winding dirt paths that bordered the treeline.

"Head on past the forest," the Hermione-Fae had said. "The trees will bend east, the way you'll need to go. When you come to the old church, you will know what to do next."

Harry estimated six miles or more of easy walking from the cliffs. His knee pained him now, but still less than it had for years. Charlie, his ligaments almost in a worse state than Harry's, also hadn't seemed overly bothered by the extended walk.

After setting up camp, Harry made himself a simple chicken sandwich in the tent's tiny kitchen, green spinach leaves and salted butter on rye, and fed some of the meat to Charlie. He had stores aplenty in the tent's larder, dry goods made to endure for the most part, but also more perishable provisions in an enchanted icebox. Meats, dairy, fruits, vegetables, and some seafood. Another goodly supply for the goodly way, and charmed to stay fresh far longer than normal.

Still, the perishable supplies would turn first, and given the lay of the land, time's oddity, and the unspoken words from the Hermione-Fae, Harry erred on the side of caution. He and the dog would eat the fresh food first, and sparingly, to avoid accepting anything faerie tainted.

Harry wasn't certain he'd sleep that first night in the Land of Faerie, but he was lost to his nightmares—Old Charlie pressed against his side and sharing the pillow—almost as soon as he eased himself back into bed.

When Harry awoke, a thin rime of frost clung to the outer cloth of his tent. He frowned and eased himself out of bed, his knee sensing cold weather, and limped out into the forest glade. A carpet of crunchy brown and golden leaves, almost knee-deep, had fallen from the colossal oak trees overnight. Harry considered this, then nodded. He retrieved the true-time magical pocket watch from his satchel and checked how time was flowing in the real world.

According to the white-gold watch, the hands flowing forward again, about fourteen hours had ticked by in the real world, his world, since he left the Druidstone. Professor Dumbledore would be nursing his hard-earned hangover and, hopefully, working toward the other parts of their plan to find and destroy the Dark Lord's last earth-side horcrux.

In the single night he had slept in the Land of Faerie, far longer than fourteen hours had past—the seasons had changed. What had been spring, lush and burdened with wildflowers, was now the cold end of autumn heading toward winter. Months, longer, half a year nearly, in one night. Harry wondered, idly, if the night made him six months older or if, in some sort of bubble, he had only aged a handful of hours and the land had aged around him.

"I suppose it doesn't matter," he said to Charlie, who had delved under the cover, his black nose and wiry white cheeks peeking out at the world. "Bacon for breakfast."

"Russ," Charlie barked, a sound gruffly and eerily close to 'yes'.

Harry paused, eyed the dog, and chuckled. What had Josiah of the Avarice said? Travel safe, Harry, and take the dog with you. Dogs are useful on the other side. Chatty.

Breaking camp after breakfast and a shower—Harry had harboured the thought of bathing in the cool spring river last night—but now, under the branches of the stark, barren trees, the river flowed dark and surly, chunks of ice-melt bobbing along the surface. The rising sun to the west was distant, cold, and painted the constant twilight of the land as close to azure as it would ever get. Harry contemplated a heating charm, but settled on his double-cloak. Once he got to walking, he'd be warm enough.

His cane broke patches of ice on the rough dirt track alongside the forest, and his knee painted him more than it had the previous day. Harry knew without knowing that whatever healing boon springtime in the Land of Faerie offered, dwindled in the colder, deader months. He felt an inexplicable sadness at that.

The first signs—remnants—of civilisation appeared just before noon, as best as noon could be judged under the washed sky. Ruins, surely, of once tall walls, and Harry guessed he was about to stumble on the old church the Hermione-Fae had hinted would tell him what he needed to do next. Harry had not cared for the sly smile behind her eyes, not in the least. What else had Josiah said? The concept of empathy, Harry, does not occur to them. It simply does not.

He suspected, as all the old tales had warned, he was about to lose as much, if not more, than he stood to gain. But so be it. Getting out of the game unscathed had been impossible since a dark Halloween night in Godric's Hollow, over twenty years ago now.

On the towering-yet-broken wall in dark red paint, flaked, crudely scrawled, someone had left a message:

He iz DeaTH markd

Harry pondered that, tried to convince himself it was a coincidence, and sighed. He limped on, he and Charlie ships in the night to whatever malevolent—for he had no doubt there—force had left the message in his road.

Months, he thought. Months have passed around me here in faerie country. I'm being hunted.

Another twist in the road, now cobblestoned though overgrown with dead weeds, led to another broken wall. The wall this time was the remains of a small cottage atop of a slight rise, which would soon lead down to the grand ruins below, the promised old church. Though it was more of a cathedral, something straight out of medieval Britain, massive and dominating the landscape. Before he dealt with the cathedral, Harry admired the rusty-red handiwork on the grey-stone wall of the fallen cottage.

tRaveLs wiv dOg

Charlie bared his teeth and growled low in the back of his throat at the latest crude missive, almost as if he could read it. Harry retrieved a travel bar from his satchel, honeyed oats and peanuts, sultanas, glued together with yoghurt and chocolate pieces. He broke a piece off for the dog, who sniffed and chewed and muttered ruff agreement.

"Trouble, and in our road, lad," Harry said.

He turned his attention to the grand cathedral, the hollow shell of such at least, in the heart of what he now could tell had once been a sizeable town. Time and circumstance—perhaps centuries, perhaps just one night—had reclaimed most of the town. Trees and grass overgrowing the foundations of cottages and houses torn asunder, fallen into the river. The cathedral survived as a husk, empty frames where stained-glass marvels would have once gleamed, and Harry, both trusting his instincts and regretting following the Hermione-Fae's suggestion, wound his foolish way down the rest of the hill and across the threshold of the cemetery surrounding the old church.

Uncertain what he was looking for, though expecting to know it when he saw it, Harry stepped into the ruins of the cathedral and admired the stone monolith from within. Broken old pews lined the vestibules, he sensed unhappiness in the chapels, and avoided them, and circled the pulpit as dust danced in the beams of light and Charlie kicked at his heels.

An arched stone doorway led downwards, towards the crypts, and Harry stood at the top of the steps staring down into impenetrable darkness. He tilted his head, catching distant whispers, perhaps just tricks of the wind, and laughter. Some presence, lost in those ancient tunnels, giggled and stepped forward. He caught the scent of lilac perfume, a taste of something sweeter. Harry felt himself growing hard, both with lust and fear, and hurried away from the unseen demon's threshold.

He circled the cathedral once, stepped back outside, and wandered among the hundreds of tombstones. Most were faded beyond reading, covered in moss, fallen among the weeds and the long grass, and inscribed with foreign runes, but one stood out amongst the rest— a slanted, crooked tombstone back toward the road.

The stone was newer, if still worn, and the letters engraved in the marble plaque had thinned but were still legible. The name on the grave was, and here Harry knew he'd found what he was meant to find, written in English.

He mulled the tombstone over for a long moment, glanced at Charlie, and felt an icicle of indecision as cool as midnight-winter shiver down his spine.

"Don't look at me like that," he muttered to the dog.

Harry allowed himself a moment longer to think about what he was doing, what he was about to do, and even contemplated taking a shortcut and using magic to complete the grisly task ahead. Then he reached into his satchel, fumbled around in its enchanted depths for a simple wooden-shafted shovel, borrowed from the greenhouses at Hogwarts long ago, never returned.

He began to dig.

Yesterday, Harry's yesterday, the ground would have yielded, the dirt light and loose in spring growth. Here, now, the cold had seeped into the earth and compressed the soil, gave it strength to fight. The work was hard, near-gruelling. Harry pressed the boot of his good leg against the shovel to make the old metal bite and haul dirt from the grave. Charlie stood aside the tombstone, his eyes over Harry's shoulders, watching his back.

Sometime later, Harry de-cloaked, sweaty despite the cold air, and dug for another half hour. As his lower back burned with the strain, he grit his teeth, and—

The shovel struck with a dull, hollow clunk against something undoubtedly wooden. Harry grimaced and hopped out of the grave—thankfully not the full six feet, only about four—and sat on the edge of the hole he'd dug. He sipped from his flask of mater and contemplated what happened next.

Dragging the thin coffin from the ground wasn't as exerting as anticipated—the remains inside long since bones among dust. He hauled the pine box from the pauper's cemetery and left it on the edge of the road. Harry scanned his surroundings, the world was quiet but he felt watched, or perhaps just guilty for disturbing the dead, and slipped his hand into a specially sewn pocket on his vest.

Here he retrieved a worn band of silver with a grey-black stone inlaid in the setting. He slipped the ring onto the index finger of his right hand.

Harry grasped the shovel and, hesitating only a moment, smashed through the brittle, dirt-stained wood on the face of the coffin. The wood splintered and he brushed the pieces aside before tossing the shovel against the pile of fresh-dug grave dirt. A slender skeleton, hands clasped over its chest, draped in a simple black robe faded and worm-eaten, grinned up at Harry, the jaw hanging askew.

Charlie, perhaps sensing what was about to occur, decided to wander down the road a'ways and turn his back to the mischief. Harry took another swig from his flask and suppressed a sigh. He stood over the coffin and held his right hand over the bones. The grey stone he wore in the silver ring on his index finger was on a clever little clasp, which allowed the stone to spin in its settings.

Harry spun the Resurrection Stone precisely three times and pierced the veil.

The shade of Severus Snape appeared above his earthly remains, his face pale, eyes sunken, and framed by hair as lank as it had been in life. He crossed his ghostly arms over his chest and grimaced.

"Ten points from Gryffindor, Mr. Potter," he whispered, the words travelling across a distance best measured only in regret and wastelands of time.

A world away, in a castle enclosed by a forbidden forest, bordered by a great lake, and nestled in a horseshoe of snow-capped peaks, a young girl, Maria Vale, second-year Ravenclaw, hopped up the steps of the castle two-at-a-time and into the Entrance Hall.

She brushed snow from her shoulders, her bobbly and woollen winter cap, her nose red with cold, and sneezed, almost dropping her books and quills and parchments.

She glanced at the house point counters as she dashed toward the Great Hall for lunch, and glimpsed ten golden-red ruby gems retreating into the upper bulb of the Gryffindor hourglass. Someone had just earned a detention.

Maria grinned happily, as that put Ravenclaw in the lead by a good measure of sapphire-points, and when we are young, such things matter greatly.

A/N: Should be enough to be getting on with. I'm enjoying this one. 10,000 words in a week enjoying it. I intend to continue. Promises, promises, right?