AN: So I think the short chapter plan was good idea. Here's chapter 25 with almost 9,000 words. Not to mention how much faster this update was compared to the last.
Now I have to explain something important about this chapter at the end. So before I start getting flamed, just listen to what I have to say.
The continuation of Harry's conversation with Lily will take place later on in the chapter. I've gone ahead and skipped the rest of Christmas, as there was only three important events left (including Harry and Lily's talk) that I can cover in flashbacks.
Thanks, as always, goes out to Lawyer Joe.
Hissing not for the first time that day, Harry sluggishly exited the Ravenclaw showers. Flicking his wand to open the wide, arching window by his bed as he entered the boy's first year dorm, he was pleased to see his bunk mates were out for the time being.
The absence of his roommates meant that the young Potter heir wouldn't be forced to lie or dodge any awkward questions the sight of his bare, well-muscled (for his age) chest would have undoubtedly drawn. And though it could be said the boys he bunked with were excellent at minding their own business and looking the other way when one of their own was doing something that may be frowned upon by their professors, the scattering of purple, black, and disgusting, sickly looking yellow marks that littered his front and back, up and down his legs and the areas that disappeared into his towel would have seen them up in arms.
Though they may be in the house of knowledge, the bond shared by the Ravenclaw first years was comparable, if not outshined, that of any of the Hufflepuff house possessed. The thought of one of their own being harmed, especially one as well liked as Harry, would have resulted in the entire flock of ravens taking to the skies looking for blood.
Forgoing his usual drying charm, Harry perched himself on the edge of his bed, biting back the gasp that nearly escaped as his still wet form lowered on to his mattress. Sighing into his second towel, he enjoyed the feel of the light breeze that ghosted against his sore body summoning goosebumps to the surface of his skin.
A week had come and gone since his return to Hogwarts. A week that had crawled at the same agonizing pace of a drunken flobber worm for the boy with blood-colored hair, as he was forced to wait for the day his mother was to sneak into Hogwarts and help him rid the castle of the basilisk that had lurked bellow its occupants' feet for centuries.
Little did he know how unexceptional and outright lackluster such an event – the defeat of one of the Magical world's most deadly and feared creatures – would be. The only mildly redeeming event of the day had been witnessing his mother's behavior as she waited for him to open the entrance to the chamber.
With a cranky rooster underarm, Lily visibly shook with excited, nervous energy, her eyes trained intently on the sink as it shifted into a grime and filth coated slide that disappeared into the stagnant scented darkness below. Privately, Harry felt that his mother had never looked more like Ivy than she did in that moment, whereas normally, it was the former that resembled their mother with her small actions and love for reading. But as the final, deafening thunk reverberated through the dust strewn bathroom floor and into the soles of their feet, he couldn't help but compare her demeanor to that of Ivy on Christmas morning.
"How are we going to go about this? I'll go down first if you'll allow it."
Lily smiled, moving the less than thrilled animal from under her arm and into his hands. "No need."
Together, Harry and the rooster watched as the only female member of the trio cast a silencing charm on the bathroom before going on to tap her wand to the inside of the entrance leading down into the chamber.
"What spell was that?" Down the slide and along the walls and ceiling that lined the filthy slope appeared a brief flash of orange energy that vanished almost too quickly for Harry to register.
"Echo charm." she answered, absentmindedly. Nodding to herself, she reached out and reapplied the spell before adding a second charm to the first. "It'll keep any sound that enters the area the charm has been cast on going for days. The second spell will gradually amplify the volume of any sound captured in the first charm until said spell dispels."
Hearing this, realization, followed quickly by disappointment, dawned on Harry. There wasn't going to be any impressive displays of highly advanced charms and defensive spells; no traveling into the beast's domain to face it in a battle of life and death, where they came out victorious after pitting themselves against such a deadly foe. No, no such heroic tale would take place on this day. She, a woman known for her knowledge of rare and obscure spells and her combat prowess with and without a wand, was going to have the rooster cry into the chamber and let such unimpressive charms do all the work. It was both brilliant in its elegance and simplicity yet disheartening (for Harry's inner adrenaline freak) at the same time.
Taking the rooster from her son, Lily prodded it with her wand applying what Harry recognized as a Sonorous charm on the flightless bird. Receiving a look from his mother he hastened to cast a deafening charm onto their persons seconds before she held the animal to the entrance and hit it with a weak stinging hex.
Deafened by his own spell work, Harry was unable to hear the creature's indignant cry – but this alone did nothing to prevent him or his mother from feeling the resulting vibrations of its magnified yell. Receiving the signal from his mother, he hissed the entrance closed as she silenced the still squawking rooster.
"That was anticlimactic." he snorted into the unnaturally quiet bathroom, after having released them from the charm that had been addling their hearing. Reaching out he stroked the still upset rooster on the head.
"Better the conquest be over quickly and completed with ease, than it be exciting and one of us ending up dead." Dropping the silencing charm that she had placed on the bathroom, she made for the door. "Since I'm already here, let's take this opportunity for me to teach you the benefits of conjuration in battle."
This statement was the only warning he received of what was in store for him. Hours later he had stumbled into Ravenclaw tower with firsthand knowledge of what it was like to be pelted with steel, iron, and any other precious metals she could summon for the sole purpose of "training him."
The lesson on conjuring metals and other substances in various forms was without a doubt downright fascinating and would surely come in handy in the future. But the road taken to learn said lesson was one Harry wouldn't have minded waiting until a later date, preferably after his speed and ability to dodge had gone up, to learn.
Pulling on his clothing and slinging his potions-belt low onto his hips, Harry made his way downstairs where he had left his schoolbag in his haste to rendezvous with his mother. Finding his things where he had left them, he surveyed the room for anyone he'd like to spend time with.
Noting Daphne's absence from the tower, and feeling too tired to try and join any of the ongoing conversations, he started for the exit intent on finding a quiet place to reflect on his day and work on his mental shields. As he reached the entrance, his mind drifting to the fact that despite being in the Room of Requirement earlier in the day, his mother had yet to visit the specific rooms they had spoken about searching, he nearly bumped into another person who was as lost to the world as he was.
Trailing his eyes up the light-olive skin and lithe frame of his would be collision – past her slightly wavy, chestnut-hair that hung to her shoulder blades, and her shiny pink lips, up into the girl's dark and intelligent doe-like eyes, he recognized the beauty of Alice Wynter, Ravenclaw's female seventh year prefect and Hogwart's Headgirl.
The "older" girl looked shocked at being pulled from her thoughts, the feel of his strong hands grasping her gently by the elbows so as not to hurt herself upon awakening to her surroundings. That didn't stop her from giving him a sweet smile when she realized who she had almost collided with, or noticing that he was almost as tall as she was now.
"Harry! I'm sorry – I was preoccupied and failed to pay attention to where I was going."
Harry chuckled. "No need for an apology, Alice. I'm more than okay with having a beautiful woman fall into my arms on occasion." Adding a wolfish smirk to his flirty words, Harry was pleased with the almost unnoticeable hint of pink that crept up the girl's neck.
Swatting his arm lightly, Alice fixed him with an amused, reprimanding look. "You're incorrigible, Potter."
"I try," he shrugged, impishly. "Where are you headed in such a hurry?"
"I'm off to send a reply to my father… He's been quite cross with me as of late."
"Cross…? With you?" Harry gave her a skeptical look. "Prefect, Headgirl, top of your year, has a job despite her family being worth more than most of the other pureblood families in Britain, gorgeous, kind hearted, and a whole slew of other traits that set you apart from your average boy-crazy seventeen year old witch, and still your father is able to find something to be cross with you about?"
Her blush made its reappearance, this time darker and farther reaching than before. She giggled softly into her hand. "Something tells me he'd be fine with me being more like those 'boy crazy witches.'" she said cryptically, not sharing what she had meant by her words.
"You must get your ability to overachieve from him." Harry deadpanned, before becoming serious. "Anything I can help with?"
"No." she replied, giving a small shake of the head, her long hair swaying from the action. "You can walk with me, though. If you want to, that is."
Nodding that he would in fact like that, the duo set out for the owlery side by side. Chatting as they made their way to the tower housing Hogwarts' and its students' owls, their conversation remained light and easy as they went. It wasn't until Alice had sent off her letter and had turned to face him with a searching gaze that he realized she knew something was up with him.
"Are you going to tell me what it is that's upsetting you, or are you going to keep it bottled up? Looks aside, no girl likes a guy who has a tendency to brood." Harry snorted, finding amusement in her flat tone and blunt approach.
"Who says anything's wrong with me?" he challenged. "I'm my same, normal, charming self, like always."
Toeing at the bones of one of the thousands of long since decayed mice that littered the owlery floor, he sighed. Alice had never given him a reason not to trust her, and he did need someone to talk with.
"I've been handed a choice that will affect me for the rest of my life. A decision that could mean the difference between life and death for not only me, but others as well."
Wearing a look of concern for the young boy she had come to grow quite fond of, Alice wrapped him in a hug from behind, much like she had the night of his sorting. No longer could she place her chin upon his crown. Instead, she now leaned her head into his, her chin on his shoulder.
"Maybe I can help make your decision easier… if you'll let me?"
"These 'plans' of yours sound tempting, very tempting. But for some reason I sense there's a rather large 'but' coming my way."
Lily nodded grimly. "If you were to accept, you and I both would be forced to make a costly sacrifice."
Eyeing her wearily, he sat up a little straighter preparing himself for what he was sure to be an evening-ruining conversation.
"In the past, just after your father and I decided to start a family, it wasn't an uncommon sight for Croaker's head to be in our fireplace, pleading with me to return to my position within the Unspeakables. His attempts to re-recruit me became so frequent that eventually I was forced to warn him off."
Harry didn't need her to elaborate any further to know that this Croaker-fellow had incurred her ire. There was a good reason Sirius feared his mother, so.
"Who's Croaker? I'm assuming he's somehow important within the Ministry and the DoM."
"He's the head of the Unspeakables and the Department of Mysteries. A powerful wizard who is well known for his thirst for knowledge and ruthlessness when dealing with his and the Unspeakables' enemies," she explained. "After getting my point across with him, I hadn't heard from him or any of the other Unspeakables in a capacity that pertained to the Department of Mysteries since."
"Hazarding a guess here, but I'm assuming this period of silence ended recently?" Harry commented, dryly.
"You'd be correct. Croaker has asked me to head a private contract that the Department of Mysteries has received from an influential, foreign pureblood family." Lily's revelation was met with a serious, probing look. Anytime the word "pureblood" was brought up and had something to do with his mother or sisters, Harry instantly went on alert.
"How will this foreign family take the news that a muggleborn witch will be the one to oversee this expedition or whatever it is they're asking for? I know not all magical nations are as intolerant and bigoted as Britain can be, but I also know that we're not the worst, either. Not even close."
"The contract would have me traveling to Japan, leading an expedition team into an underground labyrinth that connects a shrine and a castle, both of which are as old as Hogwarts. Our team will be responsible for the circumventing and the destruction of wards and any and all spells or enchantments with malicious intent."
Throughout her explanation Harry kept up the same expectant look, waiting for her to answer his original question. Shaking her head in exasperation, she laughed softly at how protective he was acting. Just another trait of his that reminded her of his father.
"You have nothing to worry about. Japan doesn't share views with the majority of Britain's older families on the importance of blood status." she reassured him, rolling her eyes playfully at him, attempting to lighten the tension visible in his shoulders. "While they strive to keep alive their traditions and all the things that led their government and people to being a force to be reckoned with, they've also come to accept that change is something to be embraced, not fought and restricted. And that if they wish to keep their legacies alive for future generations they have to welcome new life and blood into their ancient bloodlines."
"But before we get ahead of ourselves, I've not taken the job yet. Whether or not I do depends on you and the choice you make." Seeing her words effect on him, she pressed on, knowing that his reaction was likely to be a negative one. "I was going to outright refuse Croaker's offer to return to his ranks and the chance to head up the execution of the contract. But just as I was about to turn him down, he brought you up, expressing his interest in you and your achievements. He then went on to reveal his plans to try and recruit you sooner rather than later. Hearing this, I knew that if I made him an offer, then and there, I could gain you access to a wider range of the knowledge housed within the Department of Mysteries."
The thought of all the knowledge hidden away in the deepest parts of the Ministry, far from the prying eyes of even the most influential, palm-greasing purebloods, suddenly being offered to you would be enough to make even the laziest and most unmotivated person sit up in attention. Harry, who was living up to his new house's reputation, couldn't think of any organization that could bestow such a tempting perk for joining them.
"And how much access were you able to barter for?"
"If you agree to join them that will depend on you. It's only natural; there are certain pieces of information and dangerous artifacts that you won't be privy to right away, if ever. However, they're willing to allow you access to as much knowledge as you can safely handle. Of course, it's a given you'll have to swear an oath not to disclose anything the department and the Ministry wants kept from the public eye, but if you continue to excel as you have so far they'll allow you as much knowledge as you can handle."
Ignoring the thrill of excitement traveling up his spine, he said, "That's quite generous of them."
Lily nodded. "In addition to the access to their spells and library of information, I'll also be allowed to officially train you, not only in combat but in Charms, Runes, Ward Construction, Potions, Arithmancy and in reaching the title Elemental. Trainers for other subjects you may be interested in will also be made available to you, though your father is looking forward to taking you under his wing and training you in his chosen art of Transfiguration."
"It sounds like the offer of a lifetime." he admitted truthfully. "But you've yet to tell me what the drawback to all this is."
Lily grimaced. "The job requires that we identify, learn, and remove all the protections that have been placed on the tunnels since the time of their creation, excluding those that are preventing the passageways from caving in and wearing away with time. In addition to bringing back the enchantments and wards we discover to the family that contracted the DoM, we're expected to capture any and all creatures we come across down there, without maiming or killing them. Severely harming one of these beings, even by accident, could lead to an international incident."
"I understand things are different for this family, and maybe it's just how things are done in their country, but what's so important about these creatures to them? More times than not, families of great power, no matter how accepting they are of change, wouldn't blink twice at the death of animals or any creature they label as being lower than them that stand in the way of something they want." For the moment the "sacrifice" he was expected to make was forgotten.
"The labyrinth hasn't been entered in over a century, and even before this time the wildlife and wilderness that thrived in the miles of wide twists and turns made it difficult to venture into the tunnels. In the past hundred years alone, there have been a number of creatures native only to Japan that have gone extinct – it's the same all over the world. Their hope is that at least a few of these thought to be forever lost species might still be alive and thriving."
"How big are these tunnels supposed to be? If they're capable of sustaining all these creatures and wildlife then they'd have to be of an impressive size."
"I've only seen a few sketches of the hidden entrance chamber located at the shrine, but that was as large as the Great Hall of Hogwarts. If the information the family has is accurate, then the tunnels are just as big, if not bigger." she informed him, knowing exactly how he felt. She had been doubtful of the chances of survival for any of the extinct creatures they hoped to find, that is until she saw just how incredibly massive the area she and her team would be working in actually was.
Having allowed him time to grasp how large an undertaking clearing the tunnels would be, Lily decided it was time to answer his question. "If you accept Croaker's proposition then you will be a part of this excursion as my apprentice, working alongside me and my team. Learning all you can through firsthand experience. The root of our problem lies with the core Rune Stone and Wards knitted into the very foundation of the Rune Clusters. The use of Apparition and Portkeys will be impossible until the very end."
Understanding lit the Potter heir's eyes. "Making travel that would normally be easy for a witch or wizard much more difficult."
"We'll leave as soon as you're ready; the entire expedition is waiting for my go ahead. Once we start – if we go through with this, we'll only be able to make the trip home on occasion. Until the job is completed we'll be forced to go months at a time without seeing your father, Iris, and Ivy."
"What of Ivy? Who will take care of her?" he demanded in a sharp voice.
"James has agreed to cut back on his hours to help out at home, and she will spend the rest of the time with Dorea."
"They know about this?"
"Your grandfather knew of Croaker's plans before even I did." Lily's confession was given with a scowl, not that Harry was paying this any mind. "Your grandparents, father, and I all think it's a wonderful opportunity."
"What of Iris?" he blurted angrily. Suddenly all that knowledge he'd been offered and the adventure the labyrinth presented him with didn't seem as tempting as it had before. "How do I explain leaving after telling her how I feel… sort of." he finished, sounding almost sheepish despite his anger.
"I'm not sure." Lily answered him honestly, looking at him apologetically. "As I said before, it'll be a sacrifice for the both of us."
"I can see why you're troubled." Alice whispered comfortingly into his ear. "A chance to enter the Unspeakables at such a young age is unheard of. But to have to tell your family and friends goodbye for such a long period of time is a costly price to pay."
Harry nodded, keeping his gaze focused on the mountains off in the distance. Though he had shared only the most basic of details with her, he still felt his shoulders lighten from doing so.
"I'm at a loss as to what I should do… Accept the chance of a lifetime and be forced to say goodbye to everyone I care for, or stay here attending classes that I could sleep through and still pass, but possess the company of those I so desperately crave." Sighing, he leaned his head back onto her shoulder placing her temple against his pulse point. Silently, he relished in the intimacy of the moment just as Alice was.
"Those who are far older than you or I would have difficulty with such a decision. It's not a choice I envy." she confessed, sincerely. "I think you have to ask yourself whether or not the knowledge and opportunity you've been presented with is worth the sacrifice. For a reason you've not shared with me, you seem to be under the impression that you'll need all the power you can attain in the near future. If being away for a time meant I would be capable of protecting those I care for and love from danger, I'd gladly take the loneliness… for their sake."
"You're right…" A soft chuckle escaped him as he angled his head so his eyes were meeting hers. "As if there was any doubt of anything less passing those mesmerizing lips."
This time not even Alice could lie to herself, he had brought out in her what no other member of the opposite sex could, a blush that colored even her slender throat. "You should be careful what you say to girls, Harry. Words like that mean more to us than they do to the men who so casually throw them around." she explained, hastily shifting her gaze from his.
"Shyness is very becoming of you."
"Shaddup," she mumbled, cutely.
Something about the view of Alice through her curtain of silky chestnut hair, the pink tint tracing the planes of her features, and the way her nervous eyes avoided his, ignited something animalistic – a terrible hunger for her deep within him. His liquid pools of emerald trained themselves on her shiny, pillow-esque lips, Harry turned within her arms boldly pressing his chest to hers. And still Alice refused to look at him.
Snaking his hand under her school robes and around her to the base of her spine, he turned them slowly pressing her softly into the dirty stone wall.
"Harry." she whispered, her breath leaving its mark on the space between their faces.
"Refusing to meet my eyes like that could easily be misconstrued as an invitation."
Leaning forward he ghosted his lips below her jaw line, keeping his devilish smirk pressed to her neck as a shiver made its way through her body. Growing emboldened by her reaction to his lips, he slowly grazed his teeth over her pulse point and was rewarded by the feel of her squirming against him.
Alice was a bundle of nerves. It was only half an hour earlier that she had sent off a letter telling her father in no uncertain terms that no matter how many times he yelled and complained, gifted her with expensive and extravagant trinkets, or arranged marriage meetings for her, she was never going to be interested in a member of the opposite sex.
The very thought of being touched by a man turned her stomach. But here she was, pinned to the wall of the owlery by a charming and mischievous, first year boy that she somehow, despite everything that told her she shouldn't, found outrageously attractive.
And then there were his lips…
Merlin, his lips were amazing!
His lips were doing things for her with a few small brushes against her skin that the few girls she had been with had failed to do. He's a first year… you have to stop this-
All thought of stopping him was brought to a crashing halt as she registered a hardness pressing against her thigh. Eyes going wide, a very girly sound of surprise escaped her making the boy flush against her shake with silent laughter.
"Skittish as a kitten." he hummed into the soft bend of her neck. Not wanting to push her too far or make her uncomfortable, he shifted his hips away from her despite the part of him that begged not to.
"Harry," she started shakily, her breathing a pitch faster than was normal. "You – I – we can't do this."
"Can't do what?" he questioned playfully, taking the lobe of her ear between his teeth.
"That," she moaned, eliciting a pleased rumble from Harry. "You have to stop... it's not right – not proper."
"Why would I want to do something like that?" Sliding a finger under her blouse, he traced circles against the dimples at the base of her spine. "Does my touch not excite you? Please you in ways your past lovers have? Am I not enough of a man for you?" Accentuating his final question, he boldly ground his hips into hers, giving her a feel of his full length and how much he craved her touch.
At the word "man" a jolt traveled through her that was enough to bring her back to herself.
"Harry, stop." she ordered sternly, being firm with not only the first year who had her worked up so well, but herself.
Hearing her shift in tone Harry pulled away, looking at her with confusion. "What's wrong?"
"We can't do this. You shouldn't even be kissing girls on the cheek yet, let alone doing… that!" Stopping herself from groaning at the loss of contact, she pulled his hand from inside her blouse as she moved to one of the large, pane less windows and away from him.
Harry, guessing what her problem was, made an annoyed sound that drew a surprised look from the girl he had been pressing to the wall just seconds before. "If you're not attracted to me, or are seeing someone, or if it's something as simple as not wanting to get carried away then I can understand you stopping us. But don't let something as stupid as my age determine what we can or can't do together."
"No, your age isn't the only reason I stopped us, but even if that wasn't the case it's still a more than adequate a reason to do so." she shot back, her temper flaring.
"Tell me why then. I like you, and I have a hard time believing you're the type of woman that would allow someone they're not interested in get as far as you let me." Stepping close to her, he fixed her with a challenging look.
Squirming slightly under his intense gaze, she replied, "For one, you're right, I'm not that type of girl, but neither am I one who starts randomly necking with those she does like. I'm no slag! Secondly, I…"
Harry looked at the suddenly hesitant girl expectantly. "And?" he prompted.
Alice scowled. "I'm too old for you. Do you know what people would say if they saw us together?"
Harry scoffed. "Do I seem too young to you? And you're way off base on the part about what others would think. This is one of those rare occasions where the double standard is in women's favor."
"What rubbish are you talking about?"
"If a woman sleeps around she's a slag, if a man does the same he's called a seeker. Well that same double standard is applicable to dating someone who's younger than you. When a man dates a girl that's too much younger than him, he's labeled a pervert. With women it becomes a joke about how awesome the guy must be." Harry had pulled his argument out of his ass, and if the look Alice was giving him was anything to go by she knew this. "Plus we're magical! We mature faster than muggles and live longer. Age is irrelevant to us."
"Harry we can't date each other."
"And I'm not asking you out. All I'm saying is that you shouldn't dismiss me out of hand because I'm younger than you."
Alice began to speak only to stop herself as she looked into his eyes. Chewing her lip in a way that reminded Harry of the diamond hard organ he had been introducing her to just minutes before, she thought over what he had to say.
She'd be lying if she said he wasn't ridiculously attractive. Smart, athletic, handsome, and charming, Harry Potter was definitely an appealing individual, and would undoubtedly make a great boyfriend. And there lied one of the two problems that arose when considering him as dating material. He was male, and she was into women. No matter how good his lips had felt against her neck, or that she did in fact find him, a member of the opposite sex, attractive, could she really change a part of herself that she had been sure of since she was twelve?
And if it was possible for her to look past such a huge part of herself that had caused untold amounts of strife with her father, then there was the matter of his age to be concerned about. While there was some truth to be found in what he said about double standards, she doubted people would be accepting of what had taken place between them.
When Alice surfaced from her thoughts it was to the sight of an owl landing on Harry's outstretched arm. Watching him remove the letter she had failed to notice from its leg, she was taken aback by the rapid changing of emotions that crossed his face.
"Dung, you have the worst timing." he muttered to himself, unintentionally speaking loud enough for her to hear.
Looking up, he pocketed the unopened envelope and shook his head. "Nothing you need concern yourself with." Before Alice could hope to respond, he crossed the distance separating them, pulling her into a searing kiss.
If Alice wasn't enjoying the kiss or didn't want to participate, she failed to voice her objections. By the time his tongue danced along her bottom lip asking for permission to enter, Hogwarts' Headgirl was returning his kiss with equal amounts of enthusiasm and fervor, allowing him to explore the inside of her mouth with his strong and surprisingly experienced tongue. It was as he hissed, winning the battle of their tongues that a moan of unrestrained pleasure escaped her, granting him full control as she enjoyed the skill with which he dominated her.
Hands balled in her robes pulling her into his chest, teeth closed around her bottom lip, Harry broke the kiss with a cocky smile. "Look at that," he chuckled huskily, "swollen lips look good on you too."
Despite her already labored breathing Alice was able to huff at him, looking both ashamed and pleased with herself – satisfied, yet far from being sated.
It was a good look on her, Harry decided.
"How can you only be eleven?" she panted, honest curiosity coloring her voice.
Releasing a small, bitter laugh, he leaned forward, capturing her lips again in a brief kiss. "You can blame that on the bipolar bitch that is my luck."
"Purchasing a private room was an excellent bit of foresight on your part, Dung"
Hood drawn, all that was visible of Harry to the petty criminal was the blond tresses that escaped his hood and his hands that were the same shade of ebony as that of Dean Thomas. His crooked smile hidden beneath his hood, he silently thanked Sirius for his gift.
"Figured ya wanna be done with 'his somewhere 'way from 'he public eye." Shuffling from foot to foot the small, unkempt man clutched a scroll, yellowed by age, to his chest.
Harry nodded. Surveying the room the unidentified Potter projected an air on nonchalance, masking his impatience from the fidgeting crook as he listlessly walked circles around him. "Your letter was lacking anything but a room number. I assume you've called me here for what we spoke of previously?"
Dung nodded hurriedly, offering up the scroll. The man who had ransacked the house of his deceased godfather in his original world and timeline was eager to please him, no doubt with thoughts of the reward Harry had promised him for the speedy retrieval of a way to be rid of the underage trace playing in his unwashed head.
Taking the scroll and unfurling it, Harry inquired how Dung had gone about acquiring its possession as he skimmed over its contents, finding only a single worded incantation and a brief summary about the spell's mechanics.
"Nik'd it from Borgin and Burkes, I did. Turns out, only a few dim Purebloods know it. Rest of 'em 'ave to go to ol' Borgin to rid their young'uns of it."
Harry smiled at that. While it was true the owner of Borgin and Burkes probably knew the spell by heart after having cast it on the children of purebloods for years, it was the thought of the man's face twisted in bewildered anger at the discovery of the theft that pleased Harry.
"Again, excellent work Dung. Perhaps you're not as useless as I previously believed." Reaching into his robes he produced a palm sized bag of galleons. "For a job well done." he explained, tossing the clinking bag to the wide eyed man.
"I'll be in touch."
Taking his words for what they were, a dismissal, Dung silently made his way out of the room, eyes burning a hole through the little brown bag that sat atop his hand, his head now filled with thoughts of firewhiskey and Knockturn Alley's red light district.
Once he was sure he was alone, Harry wasted no time in casting the spell on himself. As the tingling sensation the scroll had described traveled down his spine, he was left to ponder over what other uses he could make of the pickpocket.
Exiting the private room Dung had procured specifically for their meeting; Harry stepped out into the second floor hallway of the Three Broomsticks, just as a hooded figure quickly ascended the stairs leading down to the crowded main area of the pub. As had become second nature for him when faced with a potentially dangerous situation, the youngest male Potter went on alert, searching the narrow hallway lined with doors and a single window at the end of said hall for the best areas to take cover from spell-fire and exits if a retreat became necessary.
All seemed to be fine for Harry as he passed the cloaked individual, noting that the hurried pace the genderless stranger carried him or herself with was that of person in a rush to meet someone, perhaps a lover.
The thought of a lover's tryst made Harry chuckle and his mind travel back to the owlery earlier that evening, only for him to almost trip down the stairs when he caught a nose full of the eye-watering scent coming off of what he now knew was a man. It was a scent that could be confused with the presence of an abundance of garlic, but what was in actuality the stench of a decaying body being rotted away from the inside out by a malevolent spirit. It was a smell all the students had to put up with when entering the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom – the stench of Quirinus Quirrell and the monster sticking out of the back of his head, Voldemort.
Forcing himself not to stiffen or turn around and start firing off the most deadly curses he knew, Harry continued on down the stairs as if he hadn't just passed the man planning to steal the Philosopher's Stone, turning his head only slightly so he could see which room his robed professor disappeared into.
As the sound of the door being forced shut reached his ears, he began casting spells. Floor and clothing silenced, his person disillusioned, and his most powerful shield teetering on the edge of his lips, Harry crept forward, pressing his ear to the door he knew Quirrell and his master to be behind.
"My master," cooed a rough and deep, but most surprisingly familiar voice. "You are looking well today." The gentleness and devotion Harry detected in the voice, even through the heavy wooden door, was sickening and enough to cause him to idly wonder if Bellatrix had some competition on her hands for the title of Voldemort's most ardent servant.
"Enough you fool, do you have the blood or not?" Harry suppressed a shudder of revulsion that made itself known at the sound of Voldemort's airy, serpentine voice.
"Have you any news on what Snape's and Dumbledore's protections of the stone entail?" Quirrell's strong, true voice drifted to Harry, muffled by the door and the shuffling happening inside the room.
Shifting forward, closer to the door, he sent up a silent prayer to Kar, thanking him, not for the first time, for the enhancements he had gifted him with. Had it not been for his improved hearing Harry would have been unable to comprehend what was being said.
"Here you are, master." said the first voice that Harry, despite trying, couldn't place with anyone he knew. Following these words the sound of desperate, greedy chugging filled the room – a sound that was sickening even to Harry who was crouched outside. "No, I haven't. Snape trusts no one, and Dumbledore has no reason to share what protections he's emplaced. To ask would be to draw unwanted attention upon myself."
"Excuses!" Quirrell hissed venomously, the same disgust that Harry was experiencing shaking in the man's cruel voice. "If we cannot learn what's standing between us and the stone then all this will be for naut. Blindly facing the protections those two have set forth would see me fail the Dark Lord." Unexpectedly the wet sounds Voldemort was making died away.
"Silence, Quirinus! He is the oldest of my followers and one of the chosen I have put my trust into. He can guaranty the old fool's absence when we make our move, more of a contribution than I can say you have offered me as of late."
Harry sucked his teeth in annoyance. It appeared that Voldemort wasn't going to use the third member of their party's name. Which was unfortunate for Harry, seeing as he had cast his mind back and still couldn't remember a single Death Eater who had bragged about being by the snake's side since the beginning. And that was information a Death Eater would take great pleasure in boasting.
"-what of Longbottom?"
Pulled from his musing Harry unthinkingly leaned onto the door having missed part of what was said between the three. He never expected for it to not fit its frame properly, or that his leaning against it would cause the door to move and sound as if someone was attempting to force their way in.
"Someone's at the door!" Voldemort snarled savagely, setting both of his followers and Harry into motion at once. "HIDE ME AND KILL THEM!"
Waving his wand downward, a fountain of silver sprang from his wand, melting into a shield that filled the doorframe unlike the useless slab of wood that had exposed him. Taking only a second to admire his handy work Harry turned and started sprinting for the stairs just in time to be missed by the explosion that tore the silver he had just conjured, and half of the wall on both sides of the hall into shreds.
Unprepared for such a large scale form of retaliation Harry was sent careening off his feet and almost down the stairs head first.
"YOU FOOL, YOU'LL EXPOSE US ALL!" Though Voldemort's scream was enough to tear at his nonexistent throat, Harry was barely able to distinguish it from the screams of shock and terror originating from downstairs or his headache and the skull splitting ringing filling his head.
His entire body felt like one giant bruise that was being tap-danced on by a group of randy lepricons. But having learned what laying around when fighting for your life could result in, he rolled over the edge of the steps and painfully onto his side. Grasping at any vial he could reach from the left side of his potions belt, the side that housed those meant for use in battle, he started relentlessly flinging vial and spell toward the opening in the wall.
Sending a bone exploding curse over the top step and into the dust that had yet to settle, together with a vial of the same gas his mother had hit him with when first introducing potion use in battle, Harry silently hoped there wasn't any innocents that would be caught in the cross fire.
With visibility nonexistent, and a barrage of spellfire and potions being sent their way, Voldemort and his two men had no choice but to retreat.
"We can't risk exposure, we must flee! Blow out the wall; we'll jump and apparate out that way! Leave nothing for them to trace back to us!" Quirrell commanded his fellow Death Eater.
The rage and disgust in the phantom's following scream was comparable only to that of a Horcrux being destroyed.
Suddenly feeling very vulnerable and out in the open, despite being invisible to the naked eye, Harry turned and jumped down the stairs. Landing in a roll, he found himself standing amidst the panicking patrons of the Three Broomsticks, his hood falling back from his fluid movement revealing that the magical ink had bleed away during his attempt to hit Voldemort. A mass of screaming witches and wizards stampeding for the exit, whose fears were renewed by a second explosion so violent that it shook them all to their knees.
Managing to both hiss in pain and use profanity in Parseltongue at the same time, Harry quickly rose to his feet to try and help people up and out of the pub. As he moved he failed to realize he had dropped his disillusment charm. It was as he helped a speechless man to his feet that a sound Harry had only heard a few times in his past life reached him, chilling him as nothing else had on that day.
It started as a distant roaring, then a billowing rumble that froze everyone where they were, including Harry. As the rumble continued to grow, the entire pub shook as if it feared for those within its walls. The powerful roar that had sounded as if it had been a great distance away before melted into an awful, soul shattering scream that would live on in the nightmares of those who survived till morning.
"Fiendfyre…" he whispered disbelievingly, every person in the bar experiencing the gentle caress of his horrified words. They were like the softness of a maiden's lips seconds before the executioner brought down his axe – breathtakingly beautiful, but in the end just a fleeting moment that would do nothing to still the blade that would free your life's blood.
As if his words were all the encouragement the cursed fire needed, the entire pub was assaulted by the searing heat. Instantly every person was coated in sweat, their bodies attempting unsuccessfully to fight off the unnatural heat bearing down on them from above.
As everyone scrambled for the exit and the sweet release that was the frosty, January night air that lay just beyond its threshold, Harry grabbed at the individuals unlucky enough to still be on the floor with one hand, while raising his wand with the other.
The silver, ghostly form of Harry's Thestral Patronus, which normally would have drawn every eye within seeing distance went unnoticed to all except Harry in the chaos of the pub, or so he thought.
"THREE BROOMSTICKS – FIENDFYRE – HELP!"
Even had he wanted to watch his Patronus turn and run off, Harry would have been unable to do so. For at that moment, as he bent down and grabbed an older woman by the arms, part of the ceiling collapsed in on itself crushing all those who had been close.
Having paused at the sight of the fiery beams raining down on a group of people, he was snapped from his horrified thoughts by the woman he still held. Jerking the screaming blond to her feet, Harry fought down the image of Madam Rosmerta being crushed by a piece of her home. Shoving the frightened woman in the direction of the door, he pushed his way through the crowd looking for others who needed help.
Spotting a man lying unconscious by the bar and two women trying to lift him, Harry ran to them dodging parts of the floor above that were still falling around him. "Why aren't they using their wands?" he growled, stumbling over a broken chair leg.
Sliding to his knees and pushing one of the girls to the side, Harry hooked his arms under the prone man. "Come on – we need to get out of here!" As if to accentuate his point a large, flaming section of the ceiling came crashing down by the entrance of the pub, setting off a chain reaction as more of the floor above them started breaking off.
Eyes watering from the heat coming off the monstrous black flames spreading around them and his arms wrapped around the portly stranger, he started for the row of windows closest to them. The scream coming from the girls glued to his side was all the warning he had that they were under a section of floor that had finally given way.
Adrenaline coursing through him, driving him onward, Harry put his shoulder into the girl to his right knocking her out of the way, while shoving the lady to his left with his foot. Landing partly on top of the woman he had shoved with his shoulder, with both his and the man's weight, Harry let the man go rolling onto his side so he could check on her.
"Are you alright?" he yelled over the screaming flames, running a hand appraisingly over the side she was clutching.
"I-I'm alrigh-" she started, staring up at him with big, tear filled, blue eyes, only to be cut off by a bloodcurdling scream.
Whipping around Harry watched in horror as a giant, flaming snake took hold of the woman he had kicked out of the way of the falling beams by her long raven hair. Before he could move to try and help the screaming woman, the snake gave a violent shake of its giant, orange head, filling the air with the sickening crack her neck made.
Looking her in the eye, Harry watched as the life left her fearful, brown orbs, leaving only a glassy, soulless corpse behind.
"JASMINE!" Eyes ripped away from the destruction of the now dead girl's body – the flames began burning their way down her long locks as the flame beast imitated a real snake devouring its prey – he turned and grabbed the girl pushing her to her feet before turning to the man and picking him up.
"We're running out of time. We have to move, NOW!" he yelled, noticing for the first time that the man was bleeding profusely from a cut on the side of his head.
"WHERE DO WE GO?"
It was then that he realized what she was talking about. Standing between them and all the windows was a wall of blazing, cursed fire. The only side that didn't have elemental beasts bearing down on them was the wall the bar set against.
"Come on!" Hefting the man onto his shoulder, Harry led his female companion toward the bar, laying the man upon its surface and helping the girl over before jumping over himself. "Do you have your wand on you?"
"No!" she panted, fear dancing in her eyes like the flame beasts taunting them with their encroaching death. "I lost it when everyone was rushing for the exit!"
Cursing loudly, he pulled the man and woman back against the wall, holding them there as a flaming, roaring Chimera jumped onto the bar. Not for the first time in his life, Harry pondered just how much intelligence and self-awareness the cursed flames possessed, as the creature gave what sounded like a mocking roar of victory.
"We're going to have to try and apparate out!" he screamed, over the deafening flames. He was thankful the summoned demons, for there was nothing else they could be, seemed to want to taunt him before they enjoyed his death. "Hopefully the Rune Stone has been destroyed by the flames by now!"
Before he had finished speaking the girl twisted in place – the heat, witnessing the death of her best friend, and her fear at being burned alive driving her, the same girl who had earlier been willing to try and help a fallen stranger, now attempted to flee without giving a second thought to the safety of the young boy who had saved her. Unfortunately for her the main Rune Stone was still intact – the ward that kept any intoxicated patron from apparating while drunk, doing to her what it did to anyone attempting to leave the pub in such a fashion. Fortunately for her she was in a magic induced sleep when she fell into the flaming maw of the same serpent that took her friend's life.
"DAMMIT!" Harry screamed, the first traces of panic making themselves known. "DUMBLEDORE… where the fuck are you!?"
Sliding down the wall, the man he had been carrying the entire time still clutched to his chest, Harry met the cruel, flaming eyes of the Chimera that would end his life.
"I really don't want to die."
AS if it understood him and wanted most what he wanted the least, the beast crouched down preparing to pounce.
Slowly, a crooked, bitter smile twisted his lips. His gaze never leaving the flaming pools of the beast's.
And then the Chimera pounced.
AN: Yes I know I'm an asshole – I admit to this and accept it. But the truth aside, how was the chapter? A little bit of action in this one, both the good and bad kind. From here on out in the story things are going to be moving fast. I know I've promised the same in the past but this time I'm certain of it.
The reason I was able to update so quickly was I had a couple of days off back to back. No work, no classes, just free time to enjoy with my girl and my favorite pastime, writing. But having to go back to work was why you received a cliffhanger. When I would be able to finish the chapter (if I had held on to it) and when I would feel like finishing it were all beyond me. I know how lazy I am after working all day and attending classes, and the chances of me bouncing home to eagerly finish chapter 25 wasn't likely. So in the hopes that I might motivate myself I posted the cliffy. Your reviews can hopefully help me as well. So please send your support, and if there happened to be something you didn't like about, I'll be happy to hear it as long as you communicate it without being disrespectful.