AN: Still not mine
Guest: I did consider having Harry do most of the heavy lifting for the early boss battles, but I also want he and Alyssa to be working together, rather than her mostly just following after him while he does the work, so I had to make them equal partners in the fight. Once I decided on that, I quickly realized that I had to buff Sledgehammer a bit, because otherwise there would have been absolutely no challenge to the fight, since Harry and Alyssa aren't restricted by… questionable controls (Seriously, why can't Alyssa turn while she's aiming?!).
edboy4926: Thank you
Chapter 5: A Rooder's Task
As Alyssa came too, the first thing she noticed was how soft her bed. This was a little odd, as while the school was well-to-do and had nice beds, the matrasses had always been a little firm. Today, however, she seemed to be sinking into the warm softness so deeply she wasn't sure she'd ever be able to force herself to get out. Humming happily, she snuggled even deeper. It was summer, it was almost her birthday, she could justify sleeping in a bit until she could forget that weird, scary dream she'd had. Eventually, her friends would drag her out to open whatever Mum sent her. Or maybe Mum'd come for a visit, then Alyssa would be able to ask where she'd been and why that strange man in the coat had said she was dead and what a Rooder… was…
Gasping, Alyssa shot up, throwing the covers of her childhood bed back as she started around her room at home: the room in the house she'd only returned to because of the terrifying letter her mother had sent. She'd come back, then there had been the man-
Squealing with shock and indignation, Alyssa dragged her covers back over herself as a boy leapt up from the chair in the corner, brandishing a long, thin stick in his hand. A second later, her face heated up as she realized that not only was she still fully dressed in her uniform, but the boy she had been about to give the sharp side of her tongue was just Harry. Harry the wizard, who had helped her and fight Sledgehammer and oh God it was all real, wasn't it? "Harry?" she squeaked out.
"Yeah, it's me," Harry said, raising his off-hand soothingly as he lowered his wand. "It's alright, you're safe now. After you fainted I was able to get you back here. There wasn't any sign of the crazy man; so I dr- carried you to your room and locked all the doors. There hasn't been any sign of him since."
Slowly, Alyssa let the covers fall from her hands and scooted so she was sitting on her bed rather than lying in it. "I fainted?" she asked. The battle with Sledgehammer and everything that came after it was so fuzzy…
"Yeah, right after you picked up that pendant thing," Harry said, nodding to her bedside table. "Are you alright?"
"I think so," Alyssa said, reaching over to grab the object Harry had indicated. It was a golden leaf shape with a large emeraldset into it, hanging on a chain… and the more she stared at it, the more she swore she knew it from somewhere…
"Where did I get this?"
There was a long silence, and Alyssa glanced up to see Harry staring incredulously at her. "You… don't remember?" he asked.
Alyssa shook her head. "No," she said, running a finger gently along the pendant as she tried to remember where she'd seen it before. "The last thing I remember was freeing May… her mother and father coming from Heaven to get her…"
"… So the bit where you purged Sledgehammer's gone?"
Alyssa blinked. She remembered just how angry she'd been with the evil, evil man who'd killed May, almost killed Harry, tried to kill Alyssa, so she would have thought she'd remember getting rid of him once and for all, but as she tried to remember all she could dredge up was a sense of cold but righteous fury. "No, I don't," she whispered. "I don't remember anything after May."
Harry hissed. "That's not good," he muttered. "You weren't acting like you either, so that's really not good."
"Why not?" Alyssa asked warily.
"A few years ago, my friend's little sister got possessed by Voldemort, and she couldn't remember what she was doing when he was in control." He started taking a step forward, but seemed to think better of it as he slumped back on the chair's arm. "Are there any other gaps in your memory?"
Alyssa blinked, wondering again just what Harry had been doing with his life that he'd had to deal with possession as a child. Maybe it was a wizard thing. "I don't think so," she said, running over the day in her mind. Yes, everything fit together, if you took all the madness at face value. Receiving her mother's letter, the desperate trip home, meeting Harry, the man looming over her…
"Alright," Harry said. "Alright, so it's not too bad yet, but we need to figure out how to stop it from happening again."
… Did they, though? From what Harry was saying, the only thing her body had done when it was out of her control was destroy Sledgehammer, and that could only be considered a good thing, right? Besides, there had been other times when she'd seemed to know things she couldn't know: how to use the Holy Water, how to summon the bow that had defeated Sledgehammer… her instincts told her it was all connected. "I don't think it's a bad thing," she said carefully. "I think… I think whatever it is is trying to help, trying to keep me alive."
Harry frowned, but before he could comment, both teens jumped at a sharp tapping coming from the curtained window. "What's that?" Alyssa squeaked.
Harry blinked before a slow smile crossed his face. "No way…" he whispered, rising and striding over to the window. Alyssa hopped up to follow, grabbing the Sacred Bottle from the bedside and clutching it to her chest. Harry threw back the curtains, and for a moment Alyssa thought there was nobody there, until she saw something white and feathery move on the windowsill.
"Hedwig!" Harry said happily, pressing his fingers against the window as the beautiful snowy owl pecked at the window again, hooting in irritation. "How'd you get here?!"
"You know this bird?" Alyssa asked.
"Yeah, she's my messenger owl," Harry said. "But how'd you find me here? And so fast, you should've still been delivering letters!" The owl gave Harry a piercing look before letting out another hoot and pecking at the window again, clearly trying to get in. "Sorry, Hedwig, the window's locked," Harry said. "I can't open it." As if to prove it, he grabbed the latch and tried to pull, only for it to refuse to budge, just as the front door had.
"Have you tried magic yet?" Alyssa asked as Hedwig gave an annoyed screech.
Harry shook his head. "No," he said. "I'm still in school; an under-aged wizard. We're not allowed to use magic outside of school: I've already gotten one official warning, and I only got out of another one because everyone was so happy I was alive they overlooked it." Shaking his head, he turned back to Hedwig. "Look, Alyssa and I are locked in here, but I might be able to get you something, wait a mo." Darting over to the trunk he'd arrived with. Harry threw it open and started digging through, nearly tossing several books and nick-nacks out. Just as Alyssa was about to ask what he wanted, he let out a triumphant cry and yanked out a roll of parchment and an honest-to-God feather quill with ink. "What's the address of this place?" he asked as he hurried back to the table.
"What?" Alyssa asked.
"The address?" Harry asked again, scribbling on the roll of parchment. "If we can get a message to my friend Ron's family, they can come get us. Mr. Weasley works for the Ministry; he'll be able to sort everything out."
"But-" Alyssa shook her head and rattled off the address. As soon as he was done, Harry hurriedly folded his letter and turned back to the owl. "We can't leave, Hedwig, but I saw a mail slot in the front door: head down there and I'll poke this out. Take it to Ron as fast as you can." The owl bobbed her head in what could only be a nod before pushing away from the windowsill and gliding out of sight.
Taking a breath, Alyssa gripped her bottle tightly as she followed Harry. For all that she was glad there was now a plan to get out of here… the thought of running into that dark-clothed man still scared her. However, she had to be brave: that was the only way she'd have a chance of reuniting with Mum.
Thankfully, however, it seemed that the man was content to remain hidden, as the two teens made it down the stairs and too the front door without incident. Harry poked the letter out the mail slot, which thankfully had not been sealed, and a moment later it was tugged out of his hand. "Go, Hedwig," he said. "Please hurry."
Faintly, Alyssa heard a hoot, followed by the flapping of large wings. Dashing into the dining room, Alyssa caught only a faint glimpse of white feathers fading into the overcast sky before the owl was gone. "I hope she'll be okay…" she said.
"She will," Harry said. "Hedwig's never let me down before, and she won't now." He settled against the table, careful to not turn his back on the door as he did. "So, now what? We could just wait for Mr. Weasley to come sort everything out…"
Slowly, Alyssa shook her head. While it was tempting to believe that someone else would be able to solve all her problems, her instinct was that it was going to be harder than that, and her instincts had not led her wrong in this place yet. "I think we should take a look around," she said. "That man's still here, so Mum could be too."
Harry nodded. "Alright," he said, and Alyssa got the feeling that he was actually satisfied to not just be sitting around waiting to be rescued. "We've checked your Mum's room, and all we found was the teleporter which I'm not keen to try again."
Sinking into one of the chairs, Alyssa found herself turning the clover leaf pendant over and over in her hands, staring at it as if it would give her all the answers. It was truly a beautiful thing, even missing three of its pieces and not… hanging…
Alyssa leapt to her feet: she did know this pendant! "Mum," she said. "This is Mum's! She always wore it! Well… it and the rest of it…"
Harry grimaced. "That's not good," he said. "I'm guessing she wouldn't give it up willingly?"
Alyssa shook her head. "Never. She says it's been in our family for generations, passed down mother to daughter. She said I'd wear it someday…"
"…Could it be magical?" Harry asked. "I mean, maybe it's connected to the bottle, to the whole Rooder thing."
Alyssa hissed in frustration; she didn't know. She didn't even know what a Rooder was, but something within her said that she should, that it was vitally important. "…I think we should go to my grandfather's study," she said after a second. "He has all kinds of books down there… if there's any information about Rooders in the house, it'll be there."
For some reason, Harry chuckled slightly. "If you think some books'll help, we can go for it," he said.
"And here I thought wizards liked books," Alyssa teased as she got up and left the room, leading the way under the stairs towards her grandfather's study. Alyssa had been in it many times; but then her grandfather had vanished and Alyssa herself had been sent away. She wondered if her mother had changed anything.
She paused briefly at the door: what if it was locked. Harry would be able to open it, but she didn't want to get him in trouble for her sake. However, as Harry started to shift behind her, she gathered herself and turned the doorknob. Thankfully, it was unlocked, so she and Harry stepped in.
The first thing Alyssa noticed was that her mother didn't seem to have even set foot in this room: there was a visible layer of dust over everything. The books were still everywhere, filling the shelves and stacked on the floor; the weird masks that her grandfather had insisted on hanging up despite Alyssa thinking they were creepy were still on the walls. Everything seemed to be just as she remembered it.
"Nice place," Harry said, a note of sarcasm leaking through as he brushed away some cobwebs that fell in his face. Alyssa threw him a mock dirty look before taking a closer look around: hopefully there was something out of place, something that would give her a clue…
There was a clue, though it took her an embarrassingly long time to see it. While everything else had a layer of dust, there was a book sitting on the desk itself that was clean. It was a thick, heavy book with old fashioned writing so ornate that it was nearly impossible to tell what the title was. Carefully opening it, Alyssa peered at the front page. The writing was archaic and hard to read, but eventually she was able to figure it out.
"The… Book… of Entities?" she said.
"Entities?" Harry said, hurrying over from the mask he'd been poking at. "That's what Sledgehammer said he was connected too. Your possessed self also mentioned something about severing him from his Entity."
Frowning, Alyssa flipped a few more pages to the introduction. The writing was not much more clear, but after a few moments she was able to follow it.
Entities are believed to have existed in the human realm since times immemorial, though the first records of their existence come from the late Roman Republic. Immortal and ethereal beings of cruelty and malevolence, these spirits thankfully cannot do much damage in the physical world on their own. However, they are capable of possessing humans, amplifying their natural evil to a level of ruthlessness and cruelty scarcely imaginable. These possessed humans invariably commit acts of torture and murder, not only to please their dark masters but to feed on their victims' souls, gaining terrible power.
Human authorities will, of course, attempt to punish the evil-doer, however in so doing they are attacking the symptom rather than the cause. Bound to the will of an invisible spirit, a possessed human's inevitable demise is not the end of their reign of terror; just the next step. After bodily death, if the possessed has gained enough power through the blood and souls of their victims, they will merge with the Entity that chose them, creating a foul creature known as a Subordinate. With their newfound power, the Subordinate will create a world of their own. Then, they will choose another victim that strikes their fancy, murder them, and draw them into this new world in order to feed eternally on their suffering. New victims will be drawn in from time to time to provide some sustenance, but their primary victim remains the focus of their cruelty unless a more appealing target should present themselves. Only a Rooder is able to stop a Subordinate in this state.
Little is known about the possession process, and much of what is seems contradictory. Some evidence and scholars claim that an Entity can only attach themselves one who is naturally evil and willing to committee horrific acts in its name, while others say that any human, be they noble or vile, is at risk of falling into an Entity's web. Whatever the truth is, what is known is that so long as Entities and their Subordinates have sway in this world, mankind's suffering will continue.
The two teens stared at each other for a long few seconds. "Well," Alyssa said. "That's… something."
"That's something all right," Harry said. "Does the book say anything about what exactly a Rooder is?"
"Let's find out," Alyssa said, turning a few more pages. However, the book seemed to be going into more detail about Entities, so with a groan she opened the book to the back, hoping that there would be a functional index in this ancient tome. They were in luck; there was indeed an index, and after a minute of searching she found the word she was looking for and flipped back to the proper page.
While evidence shows that Entities have existed since the beginnings of the human race, Rooders are a much more recent development, though this could simply be them only choosing to reveal themselves later than their enemies. Often described as the equal-but-opposite of a Subordinate, Rooders stand opposed to the Entities and their slaves. Where Subordinates are empowered by hatred, terror and despair, Rooders take strength from love, courage and hope, and represent humanity's best defense against the Entities and their slaves.
A Rooder is invariably a young human female, aged between fifteen and twenty years, who has magical powers meant to fight and destroy Subordinates. All Rooders carry a Sacred Bottle: an ancient, enchanted vessel able to create Holy Water that is anathema to Subordinates, allowing them to combat their foe. They alone can enter a Subordinate's domain to free the enslaved soul that fuels the Subordinate by method of finding a "sentimental item," and returning it to the victim. These sentimental items are always possible to acquire, no matter how a Subordinate may try to lock it away, and once found the Rooder can battle the Subordinate and their Entity master directly: manifesting some weapon of their choosing for the final confrontation.
As to how Rooders get their power, it is unknown. Rooders are born, not trained, and the title is passed though families, mother to daughter. However, paradoxically, a Rooder's power is greatest when they first receive them, fading over the years until they are unable to fight any longer. If the Rooders themselves know why this is, they choose not to say, but some scholars claim that there must be something behind them: a sort of "Rooder Spirit," that is the opposite of Entities. There is some evidence to support this, as Rooders have been shown to have keen instincts and an ability to know things they could not possibly know on their own, though it is possible this is simply another manifestation of their magical powers. If these noble spirits do exist, they seem to be in no hurry to show themselves.
Whatever the truth is, it is known that a newly-minted Rooder has power enough to defeat even veteran Subordinates. However, in this strength is hidden the Rooders' greatest weakness: they are at their strongest when they have the least experience. This can leave young Rooders vulnerable to particularly wily Subordinates and older at risk of being overwhelmed by stronger Subordinates. Either way, it is vital that Rooders never allow themselves to be taken alive, as- The page ended, and as Alyssa's eyes tried to find the rest of that alarming sentence, all she saw was something about Sigil Stones.
"There's a page missing," Harry murmured, pointing out the remnants of a torn page. "Someone didn't want you to read the rest of this."
Alyssa frowned. "But then why would this book be here then?" she asked. "My guess is that man was here, tore this page out, but why wouldn't he just take the whole book and leave us with nothing?"
Harry shrugged. "Don't ask me why evil nutters do what they do," he said. "So, we know a bit more now, what's our next move?"
The pair thought in silence for a few seconds; while interesting nothing they'd learned really brought them any closer to finding Mum. Without thinking about it, Alyssa closed the book, only to let out a short scream as she saw what was hiding beneath it.
The first thing she noticed was an old newspaper, but what really drew her eye was the photo on top of it. In the picture was her mother, laying on the ground as if asleep… or unconscious. Hanging from the top of the frame in a barely-visible hand was the four-leaf clover pendant, and written on the bottom margin was a short sentence: "Unite the four to end the game."
"Mum…" Alyssa whispered, snatching up the picture as if she could reach through it and rescue her mother on the spot.
"Unite the four…" Harry murmured. "I guess that means the four leaves of the pendant." He grimaced. "And since we found the first one on Sledgehammer, that means we'll have to face three more like him."
Alyssa had barely heard him, too busy staring at the picture, looking for any clue as to where it had been taken. It was inside somewhere, she could see the stone floor, and from the lighting it seemed to be pretty dark. She could faintly see a thin red line on her mother's forehead; that could only be blood, coming from some cut under her hair…
Slowly, rage swelled in Alyssa. How many times had her mother protected her as a child? Comforted her, guided her, helped her in every way. Now she was in danger, and Alyssa could only assume it was as a way for that horrible man to get at Alyssa herself: he'd shown no interest in her mother. Mum was in danger because of Alyssa.
Was she just going to stand for that?!
"Let's go," she snarled. "Let's go find them. All of them, and purge them to get Mum back."
Harry nodded. "Alright," he said, picking up the newspaper. "When you fainted after Sledgehammer, a portal like the first one brought us back to that room upstairs, off your mother's room. There was some sort of big magic circle in there, with a newspaper clipping about Sledgehammer at the center. My guess is that somehow tells the portal where to go, and that this is the next Subordinate." He paused. "You do realize that we're doing exactly what that man wants, for whatever reason."
"I don't care," Alyssa said coolly. "If it brings me closer to finding my mother, then I don't care if I'm doing what he wants." Spinning on her heel, she led the way out of her grandfather's study, followed by Harry.
Trailing after the irate redhead, Harry wondered if this was how Ron and Hermione felt when he went off on one of his missions. It was an odd feeling: a mixture of pride at Alyssa's decisiveness and drive and concern that she was playing right into the dark wizard's hands. However, he was not going to try and get in her way: this was clearly as important to her as going after the Philosopher's Stone or into the Chamber of Secrets had been for him, maybe even more-so. No, he was going to do everything he could to help and support her, just as his friends would do for him.
As the pair moved through the house back to Alyssa's mother's room, Harry unfolded the newspaper and studied it.
Serial Killer Meets Grisly End!
May 11, 1962
John Haigh, the serial killer on the run since early last year, died last night at a metal plating works. Haigh, also known as the Corroder, was the primary suspect in a series of cold-blooded murders of pensioners around the country. The victims' bodies were placed in containers of sulfuric acid after their murders in an attempt to hide the evidence.
The acid, however, was Haigh's undoing, as police discovered that it was stolen and put factories and other supplies of the acid under surveillance. Haigh was spotted breaking into a plating factory in Horsham, and while resisting arrest a struggle ensued. The suspect lost his balance and fell from a platform into a vat of acid; ironically meeting the same end as his victims.
'And doesn't that sound pleasant,' Harry thought sourly as Alyssa walked into the magic room.
It looked just as Harry remembered: a strange, thick red carpet woven with an incredibly complex series of circles, symbols and runes. Harry wondered if Hermione would have been able to read it if she was here: she had taken Arithmancy and Ancient Runes after all. However, she wasn't here, and all he and Alyssa could hope was that the circle worked in the way they imagined.
"What's all this stuff?" Alyssa asked, gesturing around at the shelves lining the walls, all loaded with books, bottles, and other nick-nacks.
"Rooder stuff, I guess," Harry said. "I didn't spend too long looking. You were still out cold; I figured it'd be best if we got somewhere safe sooner rather than later."
Frowning, Alyssa moved to one of the shelves, where Harry realized a book was missing. "This was taken from here," she murmured, holding up the book she'd carried from her grandfather's study. Indeed, it looked like an exact match for the ones already on that shelf. "That man was in here."
"I kind of figured that," Harry said, gesturing to the circle. "As I said, there was a newspaper clipping about Sledgehammer here: it had to have gotten there somehow."
Alyssa nodded distractedly, putting the book back before circling around the room, studying the various objects. After a few seconds, she let out a cry of triumph and opened a small, ornate golden box. "Harry! More of those sigil stones!" she said, pulling out three of the glowing pink-purple gemstones that had saved Harry's life.
"Great," Harry said. The pair hunted for a few more minutes, looking for anything else useful. Alyssa found a sling for her Sacred Bottle, allowing it to hang from her shoulder when she wasn't holding it. Harry, meanwhile, spotted a quartet of small gold and crystal vials sitting on a shelf that seemed to be made in the same way as the Sacred Bottle. However, when they filled one up from the pitcher of water sitting in the corner, it didn't seem to do anything.
"It's got to have some use," Alyssa said, frowning at the distinctly ordinary water in the vial. "Mum wouldn't have kept it here if it didn't do something."
Looking around, Harry wished that Alyssa's mother had thought to label her Subordinate-fighting gear, or at least told Alyssa about it before vanishing. He knew it was unfair to think that, she clearly hadn't planned on being kidnapped by a murderous lunatic, but it sure would have been helpful! "Well, aside from the potions, they seem to be the only immediately useful things here, and I don't think it's a good idea to just start drinking potions to see what they do."
Alyssa nodded. "Right. Let's just hold onto these for now, maybe I'll get some inspiration as to what they're for if it becomes meaningful."
Finally, it was time. "So the Sledgehammer paper was right here," Harry said, kicking the center of the circle.
"Alright," Alyssa said. "Put the new one down and I'll use the Holy Water: that's what activated it last time. Are you ready?" Harry nodded, put the paper down, and backed up a few steps. Taking a deep breath, Alyssa opened her Sacred Bottle and splashed a fine mist into the air. Just like last time, it coalesced into a silvery portal. With one last nod to each other, Harry and Alyssa touched it at the same time and were pulled through into the Subordinate's domain.
The first thing Harry felt was a wet chill: wherever they were, it was drizzling. The entire place looked miserable. Old, shabby-looking buildings surrounding the tiny park he and Alyssa had landed in, though a tall wooden fence blocked most exits. There were trees, but they were all small, dead, scraggly things reaching into the dark sky like clawed hands. Harry supposed the whole place would look nicer in the day, or maybe the real thing had been more pleasant, and all of this had just been corrupted by the Subordinate. Just about the only part of the park that still looked somewhat happy was the gurgling fountain at the center, surrounded by finely carved stone benches.
"So, who do you think we're looking for?" Alyssa asked as she made her way to the fountain to refill her bottle. "I mean, last time we had May's music to guide us, but I didn't hear anything this time."
Harry shrugged. "Well, the paper said that this Subordinate targeted pensioners in life, so I guess if we find a place where old people live, we'll be on the right track." The pair looked around the area as if hoping for some sort of sign that would point them in the right direction, but after a few seconds they were forced to admit that they'd have to find their own way. Harry shivered slightly, wishing he'd thought to grab his school cloak rather than an old jacket of Dudley's. While they were about the same size, one was significantly more worn than the other.
Alyssa must have noticed, as she nodded to a building just outside the park. "There's some shelter there: I doubt there's anyone around to complain. Nobody but the ghosts, at any rate." Harry nodded, and the pair made their way over.
Before they reached it, however, Alyssa glanced down the road and gasped. "Oh, no…" she whispered. Turning to see what she'd seen, Harry winced at the sight of a wrecked car blocking the entrance of an alleyway. Floating nearby was a ghost, one that was noticeably smaller than the others Harry'd seen.
"Well," he said with a sigh. "We should put them at ease." Alyssa nodded, and the pair made their way over.
"My teddy…" a faint, female whimper drifted on the wind. "My teddy…"
"She probably died in the car wreck," Harry said as the pair paused. "Hopefully her teddy bear's nearby. I'll distract her, you find it." Alyssa nodded, and Harry stepped forward. As always, the ghost's baleful gaze locked onto him, and with a keening cry she lunged forward, her arms outstretched.
She was a little faster than the other ghosts Harry had seen, but he was ready and dodged to the side, leading the ghost of a merry chase away from the car. In the background, Harry saw Alyssa hurry over to dig through the wreck, but most of his attention was on keeping out of the ghost's reach. He had planned to test his Patronus on the next ghost he and Alyssa had run across, but somehow it just seemed… wrong, to do it to a child. Instead, he just dodged back and forward, keeping the girl's eyes on him so that Alyssa could focus.
Finally, after a few minutes, Alyssa gave a small cry of triumph and pulled something from the wreckage. As she hurried over, the ghost froze, her eyes locked on the dirty, torn-looking teddy bear in Alyssa's hands.
"I have found what has been lost," the Rooder said tenderly. "Now I return it to you, so that you may pass on in peace." With that said, she tucked the teddy into the ghost's arms and sprinkled holy water onto her.
Once again, the ghost began to glow with a bright light, slowly fading from existence. However, just before she disappeared, she spoke again.
"Mister Rand… save Mister Rand…"
Then, she was gone.
"Mr. Rand," Harry said. "Who do you think that is?"
"Probably this Subordinate's primary victim," Alyssa said, picking up the Sigil Stone and offering it to Harry. Harry waved it off: thanks to the stash they'd found in her mother's room, both he and Alyssa had three, and she was still the primary target of the Subordinates. Alyssa frowned, but didn't argue as she put it in her pocket. "I found a note with the teddy; it was wishing the girl happy birthday from a Mr. Rand. I think… no, I know that this is here for a reason."
"Great," Harry said. "So, where's this Mr. Rand?"
Alyssa flushed. "I… I'm still working on that bit." Harry couldn't help but chuckle, causing Alyssa's cheeks to puff up. "I don't hear any ideas out of you! Do you have any spells that could tell us where someone is!"
"I'm sure there is a spell for it, but sadly I don't know it," Harry said. "Hermione probably does, but sadly she's not here."
For some reason, Alyssa's frown deepened a bit. "You talk about this Hermione a lot," she said. "Is she your girlfriend?"
For a moment, Harry's mind went blank. Hermione? Girlfriend? The thought was just so absurd he almost couldn't process it. He'd known her since he was eleven, she was one of his first and best friends, but he didn't have the same strange feelings about her as he got about the extremely-pretty Cho Chang. Even trying to imagine it just made him feel... weird.
Finally, he realized that Alyssa was looking at him expectantly, and he shook his head rapidly. "No, no!" he said. "She's my friend, same as Ron. I wouldn't have gotten anywhere at Hogwarts if it wasn't for them: they got us through most of the protections of the Philosopher's Stone, Hermione figured out there was a basilisk in the Chamber…"
"A basilisk!?" Alyssa gasped. "Aren't those the giant snakes that kill people by looking at them?!"
"Yeah," Harry said, slightly curious that Alyssa had heard of them.
"I thought you said you were a student! What on Earth is wrong with your school!?"
"Nothing!" Harry said defensively. "Hogwarts is the best place in the world! It's my home!"
Alyssa's hands clenched. "But it sounds so awful, with possessions and monsters and defenses all over the place! Aren't the teachers supposed to keep you safe?"
"It's better than the Dursleys'," Harry snapped. "At least I have people that care about me at Hogwarts!" Spinning on his heel, he started walking in the opposite direction of the crashed car. "Let's assume that the car was coming from this Mr. Rand's place: if we go that way hopefully we'll find it."
"Come on, don't you want to find your mum? Save the ghosts trapped in here?" Harry said.
Alyssa hurried to catch up to him, and for a moment he thought she was going to keep arguing. However, as he turned to look defiantly at her, she nodded, a strange mix of hurt and sympathy in her eyes that made Harry's insides do a strange flip. "Right…" she said gently. "Yes, that sounds about right. Thank you for reminding me." Harry was a bit confused by the sudden change in tone, but he decided that he didn't want to fight with Alyssa, so he let everything drop and led the way down the street. Then the next. Then the next, led only by vague hunches and a desire to keep moving in some direction.
Finally, Alyssa grabbed Harry's shoulder and pointed. "Isn't that one of those sigils?" she asked. Peering down the side-street Alyssa was pointing too, Harry realized that she was right: barely visible through the gloom and drizzle, there was the faint glow of a sigil on one of the doors. The house it led into didn't look any different from the ones surrounding it, it had the same weathered brickwork and slightly-dilapidated appearance, but it was the first sign of anything being amiss, so it was their best bet.
"Good job," Harry said. "Come on, we'll be able to get out of this weather at least!" Alyssa giggled slightly as she led the way over and splashed some holy water onto the sigil, breaking it and allowing the pair to enter and take in their surroundings.
The first thing Harry noticed was how small this place was. They stood at the beginning of a single hall which led to a turn. There was a door to their left, unmarked by a sigil but closed tight. Other than that, there was almost nothing. No paintings on the wall, no decorative curtain, only a small umbrella stand and coat hanger right next to the door. The good news was that there were not any of the obvious signs of a struggle that the Norton Taylor had.
"Alright," Alyssa said after she used a handkerchief to rub some of the moisture out of her hair. "We should check that room first: this place gives me the creeps, and I don't want to have something pop up behind-"
"Why are you here?! Have you not done enough!?"
Both teens jumped as the sound of shouts and a loud bell came from down the hall, followed by the sound of footsteps. Hurrying to the corner, Harry peeked down the hall to see a man approaching, using a cane to find his way as his other hand rang the bell. He looked a lot younger than Harry had expected, maybe in his mid-thirties, but from the way he was lurching it was clear he was not well.
"Mr. Rand?" Alyssa called softly, stepping past Harry to stand in the center of the hall.
"Curse you! Leave me be!" Mr. Rand cried, waving his stick as he continued to advance. "I… I can't see… Mother! Where are you?!"
"Come on," Harry said, grabbing Alyssa's shoulder and trying to pull her back a few steps. "I don't think this one's friendly."
"But he's the one we're looking for, the one we have to save," Alyssa said, though she did look a little uncomfortable. "We can't just-"
"LEAVE ME BE!" Alyssa and Harry winced as Mr. Rand roared, a burst of force somehow knocking them back. "I have to find Mother! Mother, where are you? What has he done to you?! Where is she!?"
As the man loomed over them, Harry realized that he was blind, but not naturally. Blood was leaking from the empty remnants of his eye sockets, and there were burn marks of some sort on his face and hands. Alyssa waved her bottle, splashing a wave of holy water over Mr. Rand. The ghost stumbled, cursing, but the blue flames that burned around most ghosts failed to appear. A second later he lunged forward again, shouting. Alyssa and Harry didn't waste any more time before dashed back out the door and onto the street.
The pair listened for a few seconds as the sound of Mr. Rand's bell faded. Finally, Harry let out the breath he was holding. "What was wrong with him?" he asked. "May wasn't anything like that."
"But most of the ghosts are," Alyssa said, her eyes distant. "Maybe… maybe ghosts get… stuck, in one emotion. May… she was upset… distraught even, but not angry." She grimaced. "If he's going to be an obstacle, that does make things harder. And we still haven't seen the Subordinate anywhere."
Harry shook his head. "I'm sure he'll show up soon," he said.
"True. I wish it wasn't, but that's true." The pair stood in silence for a few seconds before Alyssa sighed. "So, what's our plan? The holy water doesn't seem to be as effective against him for some reason."
Harry pondered for a few seconds before speaking. "We could do what we normally do with angry ghosts: I lead him around while you find what we need,"
"I don't think that's a good idea," Alyssa said. "Remember, he is still the main ghost we have to save to defeat the Subordinate: his Sentimental Item will be well hidden. At best, you'd be playing hide and seek for ages while I try to find it, at worse we get split up when the Subordinate shows himself and he picks us off. We're symbiotic, remember, we need to stick together."
Biting back a chuckle, Harry nodded. "True, but we have to get past him somehow: even blind those halls are too narrow. How about this: I lure him into one of the side rooms; that'll let you get past. I've snuck around a lot at school, so I'll give him the slip and catch up with you."
"That could work," Alyssa said thoughtfully. "But that will leave us cut off from the exit."
"Upper floor," Harry said, pointing. "I know a spell that'll slow our fall, so if we have to we can jump safely."
"Alright, I'm convinced," Alyssa said. "Be careful, Harry."
"Right," Harry said before leading the way back into the building. As Alyssa hung back by the door, Harry stepped forward, gesturing with his wand to the nearest door. "Alohamora," he said clearly, hoping that Mr. Rand hadn't gone too far.
A moment later, the sound of the ringing bell came from down the hall. "I thought you were gone!" the ghost yelled. "Leave! Leave me to my torment!"
"We can't do that, Mr. Rand," Harry called back, hurrying over to the door and opening it onto what looked like a mix of dining room and kitchen. "We're here to help you. We're here to stop the one who did this to you."
"Foolish child!" Mr. Rand roared, rounding the corner with bell ringing and cane waving. "Leave! Leave with your life!" Harry nodded to Alyssa as he backed into the room, followed by the furious ghost. The girl nodded back, waiting a few more seconds before creeping forward past the ghost, down the hallway.
Harry, meanwhile, moved further into the dining room, carefully making his footsteps audible as he avoided the table, which he noticed had been set for two. "We've faced things like the man who did this to you before, Mr. Rand," he tried again, not really expecting success but needing to buy time.
The tormented ghost roared as he lunged forward, his rage leading the way as an invisible shove that nearly bowled Harry over. The wizard was able to keep his feet, however, and moved away as quickly and quietly as he could. Thankfully, the ghost truly was blind, as he continued to swing his cane wildly where Harry had been. Stepping carefully, Harry slipped around the table and back out the door.
Alyssa hadn't gone far, still peeking worriedly around the corner. Harry raised an eyebrow, causing her to flush slightly. Neither spoke, however, as they crept down the hall Mr. Rand had come from, leaving the howling ghost in their wake.
"That'll attract the Subordinate for sure," Alyssa whispered.
"Probably, but this is our best bet," Harry hissed back. "Now come on, let's go, before he comes back!"
The pair snuck further down the hall. The first thing they found as they turned the corner was a fork: turning right led down a short corridor with a sigil-blocked door at the end and another along the wall, while the other led to a flight of stairs.
"Come on, let's follow the sigils," Alyssa said. "Make a noise by the stairs, that should buy us some time." The sound of the door to the dining room slamming open silenced any argument Harry might have had, and as the pair hurried towards the sigil he gestured with his wand, causing one of the stairs to creak loudly.
"Intruders! Get out! GET OUT!"
Backing up, Harry barely avoided Mr. Rand's swinging cane as he dashed past, his bell ringing wildly as he thundered up the stairs. Alyssa, bless her, had gotten the sigil taken care of, allowing the pair to hurry back out into the drizzle.
What might have been a full yard in a more upscale home turned out to be just a small, walled-in courtyard. Two doors led into what looked like small sheds, one on either side. One was marked with a black sigil.
"Well, we're on the right track," Alyssa said softly, moving the carefully open the other door, only to close it immediately with a disgusted expression. "Outhouse," she said simply to Harry's questioning look.
The pair of them then turned their attention to the black sigil. "So we need something special to get through here," Harry said. "Wonder what it might be."
"Something that belongs," Alyssa murmured, staring intently at the sigil for a few seconds before sighing. "Unfortunately, that's all I can guess at the moment. We should go: we still have a few places to check inside."
Creeping back to the door, the pair listened intently for the sound of Mr. Rand's bell. For the moment, it still seemed to be upstairs, so they turned to the last door on the ground floor. Pushing it open, they found a small sitting room. It was remarkably ordinary, no sign of any struggle or trouble at all, save for an abandoned cup of tea.
"This is the right place, isn't it?" Harry asked after the two had thoroughly searched the room, finding no hidden clues.
"It is," Alyssa said. "Not only is Mr. Rand clearly more than most ghosts, but there's one of those black sigils: this place has to be important!" She frowned. "Remember what the book said: there is always a path. There must be something upstairs."
"Right," Harry said. "I'll lure Mr. Rand back towards the kitchen, you-"
Harry and Alyssa both jumped as the door burst open and Mr. Rand's ghost stormed in. "Thought you could sneak around my house without me knowing!? Fools, you will die if you stay! Get out! Get out!"
"Mr. Rand!" Alyssa cried as she darted to the side. "Mr. Rand, please be reasonable! We can help you, I can help you, if you just tell me what's wrong!"
"Nobody can help me!" Mr. Rand howled, waving his stick like a club as he rang his bell wildly. I can still feel it! The pain, the burning pain! Mother, oh her screams, I hear them! I hear them in every moment and I can't find her!"
"What happened?" Harry shouted, ducking a wild swing as he clambered away, his wand pointed warily. "What happened to you?"
"Flee! Flee before He comes! Flee!"
Harry grunted as he mistimed a dodge, the stick slamming into his side and knocking him into the wall "Harry!" Alyssa wailed, momentarily forgetting herself as she hurried over to help, only to be grabbed by Mr. Rand.
"He is coming! Run, you fools! Run!"
"Who! Who is coming?" Alyssa asked, trying to wrench her arm out of Mr. Rand's grasp.
"Relashio!" Harry hissed, and Mr. Rand stumbled back with a cry as his hand jerked open of its own accord, allowing Alyssa to dash to Harry's side. "We can help you, if you just talk to us!" Harry snapped, moving towards the door while keeping his wand on Mr. Rand. "We can protect you!"
"Get out! Get out!"
"There's nothing we can do for him, Harry," Alyssa whispered. "He's too far gone: without his Sentimental Item we'll never get through. Come on, let's go." Raising her voice, she spoke to Mr. Rand. "Alright, alright, we're going," she said. "We're leaving now. Just lower the stick, and we'll go."
Mr. Rand, breathing heavily, stomped after them, but slowly enough that they could keep ahead of him. "Don't come back!" he snarled, still ringing his infernal bell.
As Alyssa led Harry into the corridor, she tapped his shoulder and pointed towards the stairs. "Go," she mouthed, making her footsteps louder as she went. Harry nodded, quieting his own steps as he slipped forward, his eyes on Mr. Rand to see if he would notice.
Thankfully, the ghost truly was blind, as his slightly gaze remained locked on Alyssa. "We're sorry for bothering you," she said carefully, allowing herself to be herded down the hall. "You said you were looking for your mother-"
"Mother? Have you seen her?" Mr. Rand asked, lowering his cane for a moment. Harry paused just as he reached the stairs, wondering if Alyssa had somehow managed to calm the nutty ghost down. A second later, however, Mr. Rand raised his cane again, howling. "What have you done with her you monster! What have you done to us!"
'Does he think we're the Subordinate?' Harry thought as he crept up the stairs, listening warily to Alyssa's fading apologies as she retreated. 'Now, what's… up… here…'
It turned out that the upstairs was one medium-sized room, with what looked like two beds with curtains on either side, a desk with several small bookshelves on either side of it, and a few chairs. These chairs, however, were all tipped over, one was broken, and there was a clear bloodstain on the ground.
"Looks like this is where the murder happened," Harry muttered to himself as he hurried to the window, which was already open. Alyssa seemed to be alright, looking worriedly up at him. When she saw him, she gave a relieved smile and a wave. "Stay there a moment," Harry called softly. "I'll find you a way up."
Looking around, he didn't immediately see any rope, but thankfully he had a way around that. "Linteum funis," he muttered, making a spinning motion with his wand as he pointed at the bedsheets of the nearer bed. It wasn't perfect; the resulting rope was still the same dirty, off-white color as she sheets and was slightly uneven, but since Professor McGonagall wasn't grading him he was more concerned with whether or not it would work. Carefully tying the rope to the bed's leg, he tossed it out for Alyssa.
It took the girl a few minutes to work her way up, and when Harry helped her in, she was panting. "When I get back to school," she gasped, slumping down on the bed. "I am going to work much harder in PE. When Mrs. Taylor said it could save my life, I didn't think she was being serious!" Finally, she looked around, gasping slightly at the bloodstain. "Oh no…"
"I guess this is the place," Harry said. "We should hurry; Mr. Rand could come up at any time, and even if he doesn't the Subordinate could be nearby." Alyssa nodded, and the pair quickly began to turn the room upside-down, looking for any clues.
It was Alyssa who found something. "Harry, look," she said as she stood up from looking under the bed. "This camera… I sense something off about it. Like it doesn't really belong here."
It was a very nice camera, though clearly damaged with a cracked lens, torn strap and open back. Frowning, Harry moved to stand beside Alyssa. "Was there anything else with it?" he asked.
"I didn't see anything, but it was really dark down there. Maybe you could take a look?" Alyssa said, still peering at the camera. Kneeling down, Harry cast Lumos, and indeed there was a notebook of some sort, further under the bed. It took him a few seconds to get it out, but finally he was able to open it up.
"Rand Murder Story," he read off the last filled-in page, struggling a bit with the clearly rushed notes. "No suspects, scene cleared out. One body; two people living in home. Missing person, police stumped. Mention of sewer plant. Go-" He shook his head. "There's some blood on the page: I don't think whoever wrote this stopped because he'd had an epiphany."
"Very clever, boy!"
Harry and Alyssa jerked as the door slammed open behind them, and a massive man burst in. Some of his bulk came from the large, thick coat and work overalls he wore, both so badly stained that Harry couldn't even begin to tell what color it had originally been. On his feet were heavy work boots that Harry could barely believe he and Alyssa hadn't heard stomping up the stairs. His hands were clad in similarly thick protective gloves, and his face was protected by a gas mask. The only flesh Harry could see was the top of his bald head. In his hand was what looked like a shower's spray nozzle, connected to some sort of metal tank that was being worn like a backpack.
"Alyssa, wizard, so glad you could both join me," the Subordinate said gleefully, advancing on the pair. "After I heard what you'd done to Sledgehammer, I couldn't wait to meet you. Poor Albert and Dorothy are getting a little boring; I'd love to have some fresh souls to play with."
"Now come here. The acid's lovely!"
AN: Sadly, I could not figure out a way to fit Dennis into the story without it seeming awkward, so our spazzy redhead friend will not be joining Alyssa and Harry on their quest. I know, it's a tragedy :,)
On another note… I've decided I hate this level from a writing perspective.