AN: new chapter up, enjoy.
Chapter 53 - Interlude
Wearing a rare expression of focus on his face, Harry poured a flask of armadillo bile into a boiling cauldron slowly, one drop at a time. The Wit-Sharpening Potion wasn't a difficult potion to brew but it required one to pay close attention and have good timing. All he had to do was to alternate between adding chopped pieces of Ginger roots and pouring armadillo bile several times until the potion changed its colour.
'In a way, brewing Potions isn't much more difficult than cooking when there isn't an overgrown bat to goad me into making mistakes,' Harry thought.
While Harry's classmates had not had the chance to see what a terrible and petty teacher Severus Snape could be thanks to Fleur having killed him early in their first year, 5th-year students and above mirrored Harry's feelings on the matter. They could not be any happier about Horace Slughorn teaching Potions instead of Snape.
Harry's first three years of school had been painfully boring when it came to the things taught in class but now that he had started his fourth year, he began to feel more engaged than before. He was still breezing through it when it came to spellcasting but it was different when it came to theoretical knowledge. Nowadays, he was slowly starting to feel the need to revise his knowledge too because the theory taught in class was not something that he still remembered - after all, it had been a few decades since he had last studied. Therefore, in classes such as Potions, Astronomy and the like, Harry began to study like the rest of his classmates too.
Now, he was in the library, reading up in advance about the Potion that they were going to study next week, the Skele-Gro Potion, when Fleur dropped her backpack on the table and plopped herself on the chair next to his.
"Rough day?" he asked as he put his book down momentarily.
"Flitwick is getting ruthless," she whined as he laid her head on the desk, enjoying the feeling of its cool surface on her heated forehead.
"What did he do this time?" he asked in amusement. The tiny teacher seemed to love bullying Fleur with his tasks, each one tougher than the previous one.
"This new assignment is impossible," she said in frustration. "I 'ave to charm a musical box to respond to verbal commands and play any song, by choice, out of ten."
"Don't tell me you have to record the songs themselves with a spell..." Harry said.
"God forbid, no. I can just take a phonograph and a disc with ten songs on it. But I still need to cast three spells: one that recognizes the verbal command, one that animates the phonograph and a spell that identifies the songs that are being played and picks the chosen one. The first two spells aren't difficult - a modified version of the Protean Charm should work to respond to the verbal command and an Animation Charm will take care of the phonograph. But I don't know any spell that can recognize and pick a song and 'ow to connect that spell to the Protean Charm. Is Flitwick expecting me to create a new spell?"
"That's a bit out of my league," Harry said with a chuckle. While he had reached the apex in terms of martial magic, intricate charmwork was something that he was not exactly familiar with.
"A bit," Fleur acknowledged and smiled weakly.
"Maybe you could ask Bella for help? Flitwick didn't say anything about doing it completely alone, did he?"
"She sounded very busy last time we talked through the mirrors, didn't she? I don't want to bother 'er with school work of all things. Besides, I can't rely on other people if I want to become a competent enchanter, now, can I?"
"Fair enough," Harry conceded.
Seeing as it was Fleur's 7th year, Fleur had to decide on her career path. As an aspiring Charms Mistress, there were 4 choices ahead of her, 4 professions:
1. Duelling Master - it was the path that Filius Flitwick had chosen back in his youth. For that, a mastery of combat charms, duelling techniques, curses, and Defence Against Dark Arts knowledge were mandatory. Having great combat senses, sharp reflexes, and a talent for fighting and being fearless and physically fit was mandatory.
2. Curse Breaker - a specialisation focused on dispelling curses and casting or breaking Warding Spells. Gringotts always had vacant posts for this profession... ...for a good reason. Some curse breakers did not get to live long enough to retire. In addition, Curse Breakers were generally away from their families for nearly 9 or 10 months a year. It was a lucrative but equally dangerous job. In this line of work, people either changed jobs after a few years (usually after marrying and getting their first child) or died. Hardly anyone worked as a Curse Breaker until they reached the retirement age.
3. Spell Crafter - as the name implied, Charms masters/mistresses specializing in Spell Crafting focused on creating new spells. Just studying and working hard was not enough to succeed in this. Creativity and talent were equally important. It was a flexible and interesting job but it was not as well-paid as being a Curse-Breaker. Moreover, Spell Crafting was not perfectly safe either. While fatal accidents were not the norm, they still happened every now and then. It was enough for people to not act surprised when they heard that a Spell Crafter ended up dying in a failed experiment.
4. Enchanter - a specialisation focused on creating and repairing magical artefacts. It was the most sought-after profession for a Charms Master in the Wizarding World at large. Certified and experienced enchanters were deeply respected and generously paid as well. The problem with becoming an Enchanter was that it required extensive knowledge of Ancient Runes, non-combat Charms and Warding Spells, and it even required one to dabble into Spell Crafting once in a while. If being a Curse Breaker or a Spell Crafter was equivalent to having a Master's Degree in Charms, becoming an Enchanter was similar to getting a Doctor's degree.
Fleur's end goal was to become an Enchanter. The path ahead of her was not easy, to say the least, but she did not lose heart because a person very close to her had already achieved that: Bellatrix Black. She was a famous Spell Crafter and Enchanter. She had created dozens of curses, warding spells, and several magical artefacts too. For example, Bella's latest invention, the portable anti-Portkey device, was a highly advanced artefact that had given Harry and Fleur no small amount of trouble during the Birmingham Hunt - they had nearly been captured by the Aurors because of it.
Knowing that Bellatrix had succeeded in becoming an Enchanter gave Fleur courage and motivated her to work hard every day too.
It was the second weekend of November. Seeing as everyone had gotten used to them 'vanishing' during the weekends (none of their housemates had any doubts as to what the two lovebirds were up to during those times), Harry and Fleur did not even attempt to make an excuse before making themselves scarce. The consensus among Harry's friends was that they were most likely in some secret abandoned classroom or in a broom closet, doing the nasty.
They weren't that far-off; but instead of "doing the nasty" in a dusty broom closet or in an abandoned classroom on top of a hard and uncomfortable desk, the two of them were usually spending their time in the Room of Requirement or at the Blackthorn when they wanted extra privacy.
But in the present, the situation was a bit different than normal. Just like usual, Harry took a big chug out of an Ageing Potion - it was enough to last him at least four hours - but the moment he swallowed the potion, his face immediately became pale. Quickly jumping up from his bed and bursting through the door, out of the bedroom, he rushed towards the bathroom.
Startled by the unexpected development, Fleur quickly sat up and went after him. She arrived at the bathroom just in time to hear him throw up violently into the toilet.
"What's wrong, 'Arry?! What 'appened?!" she cried out, not knowing what to do momentarily.
A node appeared in her throat and she gagged as a feeling of nausea almost made her start throwing up too. But she held her breath and recollected herself before quickly going to the cabinet below the vanity mirror. Rummaging through it, she pulled out a bezoar - any self-respecting adult wizard or witch had a stash of bezoars in their medicine cabinet. They were cheap and greatly effective in curing all sorts of poisons. Bezoars were a must-have item around the house. It was similar to how all Muggle households had Aspirin or Ibuprofen.
Recognizing the stone-like object that Fleur handed him, Harry forced himself to hold back his nausea before stuffing it into his mouth and swallowing it entirely in one go. Like a miracle, his nausea stopped immediately but, when tried to stand up, he was so exhausted and dizzy that he couldn't walk unassisted, Fleur had to carry him back to the bedroom.
Half an hour later found Fleur twisting and turning by her lonesome self on the sofa, in the living room. She was trying to distract herself by reading a book but her mind was elsewhere.
'My god, it's almost as if I've become addicted,' she thought.
It was Harry's fault, really. He had gotten her all excited and ready to go, only for him to suddenly grow sick. But she immediately put a stop to that train of thought and scolded herself.
'It's not like he got sick specifically to blue ball me!'
She did not know if there was a name for the female equivalent of getting blue-balled, but she was definitely feeling the burnt of it at that moment. A sort of cramping and internal itching that she could not easily ignore.
Her book now lying forgotten on the coffee table in front of the sofa, Fleur's eyes closed as her hand went between her legs. Her breath hitched and she shuddered when she touched her covered mound but she suddenly bit her lower lip and pulled her hand away before letting out a groan of frustration. She could not relieve herself with a clear conscience. Harry had thrown up almost as if he was gonna die only half an hour ago yet there she was, so horny that she couldn't think straight. She felt guilty.
Standing up from the sofa, she went to the main bathroom on the ground floor and opened the cabinet below the large vanity mirror again. Among other things, the top shelf contained about a dozen flasks of potions, each one of them sealed properly and with a sticker with their names on them. Picking up a small flask of Sleeping Draught, she went to Harry's bedroom.
'Such a waste,' she said regretfully at the thought that they were going to waste their Saturday away sleeping. But as she took a look at her lover's sleeping form, she thought that maybe it wasn't all that bad to just lay in bed and cuddle with him.
'Blasted bigots and corrupted politicians,' Bellatrix cussed in her mind as she arrived at the International Portkey Point in London.
After the implementation of the Thief's Downfall security system, Apparating and using Portkeys within the Ministry of Magic's premises was no longer permitted. Therefore, the Ministry had to arrange for a different area for receiving International Portkeys travellers. The head of the Department of Magical Transportation had decided to buy (using Ministry funds) an underground car park only a few hundred feet away from the subway entrance to the Ministry of Magic. Warded against Muggles, the underground car park had become the centre of all magical means of transportation in the United Kingdom and Ireland, serving as the Ministry of Magic's Apparition Point, Floo Network station, and International Portkey Point.
Her head throbbing from a portkey travel-induced headache, Bellatrix Black was not happy. Once she was done filling in the paperwork and the authorities checked her identity, a sharp crack rang. She Apparated straight to her beloved home, the Blackthorn.
The moment she stepped through the gates of her home, her warding spells notified her about the presence of two people. Hidden away by a Fidelius Charm and protected by many other warding spells, Bellatrix knew that it wasn't possible for any enemies to be inside. Nevertheless, as paranoid as ever, she still took her wand out as she entered her home.
Seeing that there was nobody in the living room, she silently cast a Human-Presence Revealing Spell. In the next moment, two silhouettes started glowing with a soft blue light through the ceiling. Half a minute later, her wand tucked back into its holster, her sharp face turned much gentler as she took in the sight of Harry and Fleur sleeping. He was sleeping on his side, his face towards the door and Fleur was the big spoon, hugging him from behind.
'They're adorable,' Bellatrix thought.
One nonverbal Summoning Charm later, a bulky photo camera flew into her hands. Becoming friends with Apolline Delacour had opened her eyes to the joys of snapping photos and immortalizing all the beautiful and special moments in their daily life. Making sure to turn off the flash and to cast a Silencing Charm first, Bellatrix broke into a grin as she snapped several pics in quick succession.
Putting the camera away, she came closer and sat on the edge of the bed slowly, careful to not wake them up. She had not seen him in nearly three months. She had missed him.
'He looks a bit pale,' she mused and softly caressed his face with her hand.
Maybe she had not been as gentle as she had thought, or maybe because he had already gotten enough sleep and had been on the brink of waking up soon anyway, her touch made Harry's eyelids open and Bellatrix found herself captivated by his green eyes.
"Bella?" he called her name in surprise, momentarily not sure what to make of the situation. As far as he knew, Bellatrix was not supposed to be back in the UK yet. It was several weeks ahead of schedule.
His look of confusion made her smile widely and she pinched his cheek lightly.
"In the flesh. Did you miss me?" she said teasingly.
His answer was to lean into her caress and say:
"Of course I did."
"You're way too honest with your feelings nowadays. It's not fun to tease you anymore!" she said and clicked her tongue, pretending to be annoyed.
Harry grinned at her words and slowly sat up. Thanks to Fleur having put herself to sleep with a Sleeping Draught, his movement and their whispering did not wake her up. Slipping out of the bed, he stood up and took Bella by surprise when he suddenly wrapped his arms around her.
"...is everything alright?" Bellatrix asked, worry seeping into her voice.
In her memory, it was not often that Harry displayed his affection for her in that manner.
"Yes. More than alright. I'm just happy to see you. I missed you," Harry said as he embraced her.
In spite of her inner doubts and slight confusion at his unusually affectionate behaviour, Bellatrix did not try to break away. Instead, she melted into his arms. Tightening her arms around his back, she closed her eyes and rested her chin on his shoulder.
When they finally parted, Harry took her hand in his and pulled her out of the bedroom.
"Come, let's talk outside."
When they arrived in the living room, Harry plopped himself on the sofa while letting a sigh of relief.
"Have you been eating properly? You look pale. Are you sick?"
He found himself smiling at her fussing over him.
"Yes, mom, I'm eating properly," he said jokingly.
"Don't get snarky with me, it's my job to worry about you," she said and she crossed her arms to her chest.
"I'm fine, I promise," Harry said. "It's probably the fault of a spoilt Ageing Potion. It made me throw up everything. I thought I was gonna die," he exaggerated.
"Ageing Potion? Ah, to be a hormonal teenager and to have no adults to stop you from going at it like rabbits 24/7..."
"Oh, shut it!" Harry said, slightly embarrassed at how she called him out like that.
"But where did you get the potion from?"
"From the Apothecary in Diagon Alley, like usual. Since I've been using it for such a long time, I wouldn't try to get it from a cheap and dodgy place. But I guess it was an accident. Maybe they sold me an expired potion by mistake."
Bellatrix looked at him with a raised eyebrow.
"There's no room for mistakes in this business. There are several people that cast Diagnosis Charms on their products every day. Otherwise, they could easily end up in Azkaban if their products ended up killing someone. You don't get to play around with Potions."
"Then how do you explain what happened to me?" he asked.
"Have you considered the fact that maybe, just maybe, you've gotten Ageing Potion poisoning?"
"I've gotten what now?"
"You've been drinking Ageing Potions like water for the past two years. Your body must've developed an adverse reaction to it. Think about it, people can get sick even from something as small as eating the same type of food for a long time, to say nothing of making abuse of the same Potion for two years. It was bound to happen sooner or later."
Her arms crossed at her chest, Bella smirked as she delivered him the conclusion that she had reached:
"Basically, you're paying the price for acting like a degenerate."
"Why didn't you warn me before?" he said, his nose scrunched up in annoyance.
"You're 40 years old and she's not much younger than you either! I thought it was bloody common sense!" she retorted.
They ended up bickering for another half an hour but there weren't serious about it. They were both smiling. It was upon this scene that Fleur stumbled when she walked into the living room. Even her Sleeping Draught could not make her ignore the absence of Harry's body warmth for too long.
"Bellatrix?" she said in surprise.
Standing up, the two women shared a quick hug and a friendly kiss on the cheek.
"We didn't expect you back so soon," Fleur said before she took a seat at Harry's right. Bellatrix followed her example and also sat next to Harry.
"I didn't expect to have my project suddenly shut down either," Bellatrix said, her voice betraying her frustration. "Some old pureblood family from Egypt somehow got the ownership rights over the Great Pyramid of Giza! Can you believe this nonsense?! It is beyond ridiculous!"
"Are they serious? How does that even work?" Fleur found it hard to believe.
It was Harry who answered her:
"If you think Pureblood supremacy was bad in Europe, it's nothing compared to other parts of the Old World. You know how pureblood families tracing their history back to one thousand years ago is a huge source of pride for British purebloods, right? Well, there are pureblood families in other countries that can trace back their history to four, five, or even six thousand years ago."
Fleur was floored by the revelation.
"He's right," Bellatrix said.
Her Magic Ancestry research had gained immense popularity all across the Globe but it was not uniform. There were still many places that abhorred the thought that Muggleborns were equal to Purebloods. Egypt was one of those places too.
"There's a family in Egypt that rules the country from the shadows. The House of Asar. The Blacks called themselves Noble and Most Ancient for being able to trace their ancestry to 1000 years ago but that's laughable when you think about families like the Asars in Egypt, the Uruks in the Arabian Peninsula, or the Eight Great Families of China. They are all over 5000 years old. The Asars, in particular, are said to be descendants of Osiris. Asar is just another name of Osiris, the one who Egyptian Muggles worshipped in Ancient Times as the God of Afterlife among other things. Not that Osiris was really a god, mind you, he was just a powerful wizard that Muggles started to venerate. He's also the first necromancer recorded in the annals of history."
Realizing that she was nerding out in front of them, Bellatrix dry-coughed in her fits before getting straight to the point:
"Anyway. The Ministry of Magic in Egypt is little more than a puppet of the Asars. It exists mostly to uphold the Statute of Secrecy and to give people the illusion of democracy and free choice. The general population doesn't know exactly how deep is the House of Asar's influence on the Ministry."
"Let me guess, the Asars became interested in the altar of bones and the pool of blood that you guys discovered in the Great Pyramid's underground," Harry said.
"Spot on," Bellatrix said with dropped shoulders. "Their ancestor is the one who created the Dark Arts of Necromancy. The Asars kicking us out and taking the bone altar and the rest of the underground for themselves was just a matter of time."
While Harry, Fleur, and Bellatrix were talking about the Asars in Blackthorn's living room, a few thousand miles away, the subject of their conversation were very busy at work. Half a dozen wizards and witches garbed in dark cloaks and with their faces covered by silver mummy-like masks were in the Great Pyramid of Giza's underground, working hard to collect the pool of blood surrounding the altar of human bones. Even for a powerful and wealthy family like the Asars, it was not an easy task to get a hold of such a huge quantity of human blood - a pool of blood that had been created from sacrifices. Human blood was one of the most important reagents for necromantic rituals and spells.
That being said, even despite their supposedly untouchable statute, the Asars could not openly let the public know about their necromantic activities. Horcruxes, Inferi, Sacrificial Rituals, Blood Curses - these were all part of the bigger branch of Dark Arts called Necromancy. It was something that most Dark Wizards and Witches did not dare to dabble in. If the Asars were seen practising such dark magic, even their lofty position would not be enough to save them from the wrath of the masses.
"Damnit, why were we sent to collect this shit?" one of the mummy-masked individuals said in chagrin.
The reason for his frustration was that the pool of blood was huge... ...in the context where they had to collect it by hand. None of the spells they had tried worked on the blood.
"Haven't you heard? The Head of the main house is nearing the end of his lifespan," one of his colleagues replied.
"Those bastards from the main house should've come to collect it then!" he retorted.
With the House of Asar being nearly six thousand years old, the number of members had increased so much over the years that the family had split into several different branches, especially those who had 'polluted' their blood by marrying Muggles or Muggleborns. That said, the status of a branch family member compared to that of someone from the Main House was as different as the day was from the night. Some branch family members were no different than errand boys or servants of the Main House.
"No need to blow up on me, you know? Go and take it to the main house, if you got the stones," that colleague shot back.
"Sorry," the first guy apologized before going back to his work.
The six people laboured manually for some time without speaking, only focusing on collecting the blood in buckets and pouring it into large wooden barrels that had been charmed with Space-Expansion Spells.
"I wonder how many people were sacrificed here and what kind of psycho would do something like this," another one from among the six, a tall and very thin man said.
"I know right? Some people are messed up in the head," said another one - it was a woman going by the voice.
They were all dark wizards and witches and they had all killed a person or two in their lifetime. They were far from innocent. But even they had a hard time understanding what kind of cruelty would push someone to do something that horrible.
"The Head of the family isn't much different though, is he? He's already lived like four or five hundred years yet he keeps extending his life with sacrifices and other inhumane rituals."
"Oi, Yassin, you better watch your mouth. The walls have ears everywhere in this country."
Yassin scoffed at that and said:
"We're in the ruined underground of a blown-up pyramid. Who's gonna eavesdrop on us now? Unless one of you goes running like a dog and snitches on me, I'll be fine."
While the six grunts of the Asar family were venting their frustrations, they didn't notice the red vapour slowly beginning to rise from the pool of blood and filling the air. It was only when everything in their eyes was starting to get a reddish colour that they finally realized something terribly wrong was going on. However, at that point, it was too late. One by one, the six masked individuals collapsed on the ground with a heavy thud. They were dead.
(1) Osiris was the God of Fertility, Dead, Afterlife and Resurrection in Ancient Egypt's religion. In the myths, Osiris is said to have been killed and cut into pieces by his brother, Seth. But after his wife, Isis, collected the pieces of his body and put them together, Osiris came back to life.